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Aging Swarm Queens


It seems that 1st year queen colonies don’t often swarm, 2nd and 3rd year ones are more likely to.
As the queen leaves with the swarm are swarm colonies more likely to swarm the following year?


From what I was taught by a commercial bee keeper he terminated the queens every second year as a matter of course. He was always saying that a queen in her first year was very unlikely to swarm, beyond 2 years he regarded the queen as likely to swarm in the Spring.
On that basis the new queen is unlikely to swarm that year or the next but after that the odds are that she will swarm.
Regards Skeggs


Depends on what you mean. It is the age of the resident queen that has a big impact on swarm impulse (among all the other factors, like crowding, nectar flow etc), not the fact that they have has swarmed in the past.

Thinking about this from an evolutionary point of view, I think the colony is willing to risk the old queen on a dangerous mission to find a new home. Leaving aside secondary and tertiary swarms, the issuing hive will then lose the urge to swarm until the new queen reaches a year old.

Meanwhile the old queen went with the swarm, and will set about laying once they find a home. If she underperforms, she will soon be superseded, but unless they are Africanized or Asian honeybees, swarms which have found a home, don’t often swarm again the same year.


There are always exceptions. I have a three year old Carnica whose colony has not attempted to swarm… at all.


To clarify what I mean.
If I caught a swarm which had a 2 year old queen is it likely that this same colony will swarm the following year?


An interesting question Skeegs. My thoughts is that she would be superseded and then the hive would stay put for the next two years as a given that the new hive is adequate for the colony.
When I was semi commercial I never has issues with swarming as the queens were terminated in the Spring of their 2nd years. That was all about maximizing the honey returns and a strong hive.
Now I would asses each hive on its own merits and look at doing splits and selling any excess hives to maintain the number of hives I wanted, I have re-thought a lot of my old practices and values.
Hope that helps with your question.


As most queens are not marked, I think it is hard to know for sure. However, I agree with @Peter48’s message just below my first response, and that is what I was trying to convey in my answer. An understanding of bee biology would make this the most likely scenario.

In the style of @busso, you can imagine the following conversation in the hive:

Mabel: Hey Ethel, Queenie is getting a bit long in the mandibles, don’t you think?
Ethel: Good point, she used to lay a couple of eggs every minute. Now we are lucky if she gets around to one every 2 minutes. I think her chitin must be getting a bit stiff.
Mabel: What do you think, should we slim her down and pass the word around that we will escort her to greener pastures?
Ethel: Good idea. Plenty of nectar coming in. Meanwhile our sisters can make a nice fresh new queenie to take advantage of all that yummy nectar.
Mabel: Once we find a nice new home, we can fatten her up for a bit…
Ethel: Then, “Off with her head”. Long live our own new queenie!
Mabel: Great plan. Let’s get started!

:smile: :laughing: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


What would be the shortest time frame for bees to build a supercedure queen cell and for the cell to be torn down by the bees after emergence?


Same as for a queen cell for swarming.

But to answer from personal experience, I have seen multiple ripped supercedure cells in a purchased nucleus while the old queen was still there. My nuc supplier says that he waits at least a week after introducing a new queen before selling the nucleus. So I would guess those cells are 7-10 days old or more. The new queen eventually ruled the hive. The nucleus didn’t like the old queen, so they made their own new one.

Very complicated question, really. No definite answers. :wink:


Given the right conditions, all bee colonies, regardless of the age of the queen, will want to swarm. It’s how they reproduce.

I’ve been saying for a while now that at any point in time, a bee colony is building up to that end.

We can lock animals up if we don’t want them to reproduce, however it’s difficult to lock bees up for that purpose. Unless we DO lock them up, somewhat difficult to do that long term, generally speaking.


So it would be 13 days to produce an emerged queen.


Hi Dan, to add my 2 Bobs worth. The way I see it, a queen takes 16 days from start to finish.

If we let colonies produce emergency queens, it would depend on how old the egg/larvae is at the time the bees convert the cell to a queen cell. I know your not talking about emergency queens, however that would explain why some emergency queens appear early or late by our reckoning.


Could only be 10 days if they pick a 3 day old larva. :wink:


Ok thanks Jeff and Dawn…
So 10 days is the minimum time. A swarm could supercede the old queen in 13 days (presuming they don’t take a 3 day old larvae with them). I don’t inspect the brood every 9 days outside swarm season …I don’t know how old my queen bees are actually. Ignore that the virgin queen looks different.
In the case of a hive with an unmarked queen, wouldn’t you have to inspect every 9 days to make sure you aren’t missing a queen cell and to know the age of the queen you are looking at? A fresh swarm would give you a few more days grace?


Hi Dan, I can’t get away from the fact, I think that preemptive swarm control is the best option during spring. If you’re going to do a brood check, you might as well do the split while you’re there. Then you don’t have to worry for another 4 weeks, or thereabouts. During that time, the split has hopefully made a new mated queen for you. Well, that’s the plan.

What’s the pros? #1 only one inspection in 4 weeks, which doubles as a split. #2 during those 4 weeks your split could have produced a new queen for you. #3, you’re not watching the calendar for when your next inspection is due.

What’s the cons? the only con could be that you did the split a little early. During spring there is no need for that to be an issue.


Hi Jeff, yes I don’t disagree with the swarm control stuff, and I don’t trust them either. I was thinking more of @skeggley 's original question with my question, and was wondering how easy (or hard) it might be to miss a replacement of a queen by the colony, particularly an unmarked one. It seems if you blink you miss it as it can be done and dusted in as little as 10 days in a non swarm situation and they remove all the evidence :grinning:

The cons I see with splitting are usually from doing them incorrectly, which is common enough for novices I reckon. We know the circumstances where a swarm can be caused by splitting (I’ve done it) and also chalkbrood can be a consequence when too much room is given to the split (I’ve done that too).


So it seems 10 days is the minimum and just 12 days is the maximum time a queen cell exists in the hive including the time whilst open and then the time spent capped? Correct?


I don’t think so. They would have to start from an egg, so it would be 16 days.

About that, but I feel that is cutting it fine. You are letting them get way ahead of you, especially if you miss a queen cell. As @Dee has said many times in the past, nurse bees love to hide queen cells, and they do it very well. I prefer weekly inspections.

Well, they can’t supersede her for at least 16 days, assuming they start building comb and let her lay straight away.

I know that not everyone agrees, but I still think that marking the queen is the way to go. :blush:


Dabbed a couple today.


Hi Dan, novices will make mistakes, it’s the best way we learn. I learned from a few mistakes I recently made yesterday. I wont make those mistakes again.

The only reason for splitting during spring is after the population has increased greatly. You can get it wrong & make mistakes whether you find swarm cells or not. I’d rather split before swarm cells appear.

Keeping the brood you are leaving behind together is the best strategy to avoid chilled brood.

Finally, from my experience, the bees don’t tear down queen cells as fast as you suggest. It’s much easier to spot a recently emerged from queen cell during an inspection than the queen herself.