I was poking around in the beehives the other day and was able to get a few cool pics. Mainly, I wanted to check on the new packages of bees I got awhile back. I just took the opportunity to look in on all of the bees as a beekeeper typically does in Spring.
Some beekeepers rarely see their queens, but I think that is usually due to inexperience and sometimes laziness. I don’t always find my queen but I always look for evidence she is healthy (that is, I look for freshly laid eggs). I can find her any time I want though. All beekeepers should spend the time to figure out how to scan frames of bees to find a queen. She moves differently than the other bees and the other bees usually give her some room as well.
I sometimes get my queens marked. The beekeeper who sells queens can mark an ink dot on the thorax of the queen to make her easier to see. The color of the dot coincides with the year she was born. In my experience, the mark tends to wear off pretty quickly but it only costs a buck or two. I think this marking is cool since it is heart shaped!
So, here are some pics I got of one of my beautiful queens, new last Fall. You can see her abdomen is significantly larger than the female worker bees around her. Notice how the workers sort of make a circle around her, all facing her ready to serve at her beck and call…or something like that.
There is a lot of other stuff to see in the hive too (click the pics to enlarge if you want to see better). The bright yellow stuff is fresh pollen. There is a lot this year and the hive is full of different colors. The brown coverings on some of the honeycomb are covering brood…baby bees pupating into worker bees. Towards the top, you can see white horseshoe shaped larva. There are several sizes representing various stages of development. Female worker bees are in the larval stage for around 5 days. After that, they pupate and turn into normal looking bees over the course of 13 or so days. All told, a bee starts as an egg and 21 days later hatches into a worker bee, ready to begin duties in the hive.
I took some more pics that turned out pretty great so I’ll share some more in the next few days…it’s bee season after all!
Just like at my house, the queen in a bee colony runs the show! The queen bee is the mother to all of the bees in the colony who sort of live to serve her. They feed her and clean up her waste. They guard her and, based on the pheromones she releases, swarm with her when it is time to move. The temperament of the queen has everything to do with the temperament of the colony as well.
Queen bees only breed immediately after they are hatched. Once a queen leaves her queen cell where she pupated, she takes several mating flights in her first week or so where she hooks up with male drones mid-flight. Based on boy-bee anatomy, at the completion of the act, the boy parts are ripped from their bodies dooming them almost immediately. The queen may execute this breeding process 1-10 times in her first week or so and in that process stores all of the sperm with which she will populate her colony. If Africanized drones are flying near (which is a real possibility with Southern-made queens), the queen will produce bees with Africanized genetics. If crazy males are flying by, the queen will produce crazy bees. It’s a bit of a crap-shoot and the temperament of the colony will change as the queen “works her way through” the sperm she gathered during her breeding period.
Hey, here’s a fun fact…female bees, which make up the majority (~95%) of the hive, are the workers who make the honey, guard the hive, and raise baby bees. Only female bees are made from fertilized eggs. The queen lays a certain number of unfertilized eggs which become male drone bees which only exist to breed with other queens outside the hive. That is, if a nearby colony makes a new queen or if the queen in the current hives dies, drones will mate with the newly made queen (more on that in another post). If you thought life required fertilized eggs, you are wrong! Male bees come from unfertilized eggs!
Anyhow, most good beekeepers will, at some point, requeen their hives to ensure that the colony will have a good supply of female workers, to alter the temperament of the colony or to ensure that the queen is young and vigorous. The typical queen will last 5-7 years maximum and will, over that time, produce a weaker and weaker colony. In the end, she will run out of stored sperm and will make a colony full of drones which do not make honey and will ultimately die.
Last weekend was the weekend for me to requeen my colonies. Imagine if you will, looking through a colony of 60,000 bees, one of which looks a little different, and all of which are unhappy about having their home inspected. It’s like finding a slightly longer needle in a needlestack! Some beekeepers go their entire beekeeping career never seeing their queens. Those beekeepers often have trouble throughout their careers which is a shame. Anyhow, I blur my eyes a little and watch for “queen movement” She just moves differently and I can spot her easily if I look for her special “shimmy”!
Once I find her, I mash her and introduce a new queen contained in a special cage that has sugary candy in the end. The idea is that the bees will eat through the candy because it’s…well..candy. In that time, the old queen’s pheromones dissipate and the new queen’s take over. If that goes well, she is accepted and life goes on. Of course, if it doesn’t go well, they immediately kill her and I am out $25 and a lot of work. In that case, I order a new queen and try again!
As a special treat, here is a recording I made of one of my queen bees piping as she waited to be put into a colony. Piping is a way the queen communicates that she is ready to do battle with other queens and that she rules the roost…many people have never heard this sound so I am pleased to have recorded it. I only ever heard it one other time when there was a virgin queen still in a queen cell, but nearly ready to hatch. She and the old queen were throwing it down! Apparently, queen bees pipe in G#!
I’ll check next weekend to make sure all of the colonies have freed and accepted their new queens…lets’ hope for the best…long live the queen!