April 12, 2010

Do you really want to do this?

Last week I wrote about finding queen cells in one of my hives. April on Cape Cod is just too early for a hive to raise or replace a queen. The weather is unpredictable, the temperatures are low, and the few drones (males) around are probably not mature enough for mating.

Right:  Queen cell being produced by a hive that probably has a queen that is starting to fail.  If you look closely you can see capped worker brood and capped drone brood.  Can you find the queen?  She is there.

This hive’s desire to raise another queen could be for only one of two reasons.

Left:  A close up of the queen cell.  You can see the old queen just  above and to the right of the cell.  Around her are circled her attendant workers.  Perhaps the workers are guarding the new queen cell to keep it from being destroyed by the queen.  Or perhaps the queen knows she is being dethroned and is allowing it to happen!

Either they have been overcrowded and feel the need to reproduce (swarm), or the existing queen is failing and the bees have decided to replace her.
The weather was just good enough on Sunday (62 degrees) to make a hive inspection.

Guess what I found?

Sure enough the bees had built two more queen cells. I said "Do you really want to do this now?"

Right.  A queen larva, from one of the destroyed queen cells.

I found the old queen. She has been laying eggs, but upon closer examination I discovered that about 5% of the brood was drone brood scattered among the worker brood.

This is one of the signs that the queen may be failing.

A drone, (male bee), is produced from an unfertilized egg. Since queens only mate once in their life, (with up to 30 males), they store the semen within their bodies. When the queen starts to run out of semen she will lay more unfertilized eggs, which become males. Drones are larger than workers so their cells stick out beyond the surface of the comb.

Right:  One of my home made small hive beetle traps which is installed under the screened bottom board.  You can see all the dibris.  No mites and no small hive beetle.  There are beetles in the trap, but they are sap beetles.

This queen was introduced into this hive in 2007. That makes her three years old, going into her fourth season. I should have replaced her last fall, but she has been such a spectacular queen. She has out produced all my other hives. I have been using her eggs to produce other queens. I was hoping to stretch her through this last season.

Left:  Closeup of the trap and beetles.  The trap is baited with a mixture of mineral oil and cider vinegar.  I have had alot of sucess catching small hive beetles with this.

Since it takes 16 days to produce a queen from a fertilized egg, killing the queen cells has bought two weeks time. That is, as long as I did not miss one.

Right:  A closeup of the sap beetle.  They must be attacted to the cider vinegar.  These beetles are not a hive pest like the small hive beetle.

This season has defiantly gotten off to an interesting start.

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