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Empty (?) Supercedure Queen Cups- lots of Drones- somethings afoot- Advice Please :-)

Ok we did an inspection today and immediately noticed many queen cups- mostly on the frame faces. There was also drone cells at the bottoms of the frames and there were many drones visible in the hive. We saw the queen- but she scuttled away before I could get a picture of her. She looked well. There were many young bees and brood in all stages- also good stores of pollen and some honey. The weather this spring in Adelaide has been patchy- some very nice warm sunny days- but last week the biggest rainstorm in 50 years. There are many flowers around. We added the flow super about one month ago- the bees have cleaned up the flow frames and started filling the central frames with nectar though only a little so far. We also removed two frames of honey from the brood box and replaced them with new plastic frames at the edges of the box one month ago. The bees have managed to build up one face of each of these frames. The two outermost faces they haven’t touched at all. We flipped these around so hopefully they will fill them out.

Anyhow: to the matter at hand- queen cups! We saw at least half a dozen of them scattered over the central frames. I wrongly assumed they were all empty- but now realise I should ave looked closer to see if I could see any eggs in the base of them. I got some good pictures but don’t think you can see enough into the cells to see what is going on:

Is the hive about to swarm? Are these supercedure cells? I am annoyed I assumed they were empty and that queens had already hatched from them. I wish I had taken a photo right inside of one but looking at my images even if I zoom right in I can’t quite see if there is anything in them- though it does look maybe there is a milky pool of royal jelly in the cup pictured immediately above?

We haven’t seen these queen cups before in this hive- and have never seen so many drones. It is peak swarm season… All the frames were covered in bees- and the flow super was also full of bees- and many must have been out foraging as we inspected around 2pm and it was a very nice sunny day.

This hive has only one brood box and the flow super- I was hoping to make a split if possible as I am starting up numerous new hives so this could be a good opportunity? I would be very happy to get any advice about what is happening and a possible course of action? Is this an urgent situation?

here’s one more pic of a frame of brood:

anyone out there? any advice welcome…

No, they are queen cups at the moment. Not “peanut”-shaped enough to have had a queen hatch from them. They have never been sealed. The top photo in this article shows you what a mature queen cell looks like:

I would suggest you have a careful read of the following article. It describes how to interpret the different types of queen cell, and suggests in detail what to do about it, far better than I could! :smile:


Probably worth printing it, as it is a really great reference guide and can be useful to take to the apiary with you when you are trying to remember what to do. :blush:


Thanks Dawn, that’s an interesting read- things with bees are even more complicated than I imagined…

It seems to me that the hive is preparing to Swarm- just how immanent that is I couldn’t say. Whilst of our queen cups are on the bottom of the frames- but that is perhaps explained because we are running just one brood box- the fact that it’s spring and we saw the queen suggests 98% swarm intentions… We’ll have to do another inspection later this week to see for sure if there are larvae or eggs in the queen cells yet. We saw between 7 and 12 on the weekend- I expect there may be more when we look again. The weather is all over the place with lots of rain- then lovely sun- then squalling rain again.

Our tentative plan is to do a split- we only have 8 brood frames to work with- and two of them are only half filled out. There is quite a bit of pollen stored- but capped honey stores are on the light side.

If anyone has any ideas about how to do a small split I’d love to hear them. How many frames can we/should we safely remove? Will only two frames make a viable new nucleus? Will removing three weaken the main hive too much?

The plan is to take the split away- to an entirely new location- and build it up as fast as possible. The goal is to prevent the main hive swarming- and create a new hive- and for them both to be queen-right. Simple. How to achieve it- not so simple.

The best result of all would be if I could make two new splits from this hive- but I fear that may be asking too much? I have 8 new 5 frame nuc hives ready for small colonies to go into- and 5 full sized hives… and more on the way :wink: I don’t mind the idea of trying to nurture and build up some small nucs- and our queen has been a good one, docile bees, healthy- it seems having 15 queen cups coming along could be a good opportunity to make some good new queens?

I’ve done my first split this year. It’s gone ok and they haven’t swarmed, If you haven’t got much in the way of honey stores you will probably need to feed the split. The split won’t grow fast without food. With mine I had a large colony with plenty of honey and I split into a 4 frame nuc. I’ve robbed two frames of honey from the main hive to feed the nuc. Now there’s enough nectar coming so that the split is going ok by itself.

Based on the advice I got, giving the existing hive empty frames reduces the risk of further swarming, distracting the bees with building comb.

I’ll leave it to more experienced people to advise you on whether to attempt multiple splits or just one.


Ok- so tonight we sought advice at our local bee society meeting. We showed the same photos that are above to three separate experienced beekeepers and we got three different responses. One said it was swarm sign- and to make a giant split removing most of the frames of capped brood. Then looking closely at the photos he changed tack and said it looked more like supercedure… Another said it was indeterminate- suggestive of possible swarming or possible supercedure- and recommended a small split. A third though it was indicative of a healthy colony- not necessarily about to swarm or to supercede but possibly considering both options… the recommendation was ambiguous: splitting could really slow down the hive- perhaps wait and see…

having read the excellent Welsh report linked to by @Dawn_SD I decided that the liklihood is that our hive is preparing to Swarm- despite the fact our queen cups look more like supercedure cells than swarm cells… Now- I must say: I am confused :slight_smile:

The curent course of action is to inspect in the next few days closely to see what, if anything, is happening inside the queen cups. If we do see larvae/eggs/growing cups- I am not clear what should be done- but at this stage I am leaning towards a small (ish) split:

This is my plan:

I will remove three (of the eight) brood frames with (mostly capped) brood, pollen, honey and queen cells. I will also shake some extra bees from the flow super onto these frames. I will add two frames of fresh foundation to a new five frame nucleus box with a small reduced entrance.

The newly created split nucleus will be removed and taken to a distant location. It will be monitored daily and fed nectar if necessary.

In the original hive we will leave the original queen and some of the queen cells. We will replace the three frames we removed with fresh foundation. We will monitor and feed if necessary. I am not sure if we will go in and release all the new Queens using ‘the Welsh method’?

How does this sound as a plan? Any ideas most welcome- although they are just likely to further confuse me.

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The swarm cells I had in August were all on the face of the comb. The difference between mine and yours was that mine were all at different stages of development.

Hope it all becomes clear during your inspection.

Just my opinion after a quick skim through the posts, this looks all normal to me, could not see that this hive was about to swarm however this can change quickly at any time. If it was me, I would leave them as-is and perform normal spring management i.e. insert a couple of empty frames (with or without foundation) into the brood box and move any honey of pollen frames up.


Thanks for the ideas.

We already removed two frames a month ago and replaced them. The bees have filled out one face of each of the new ones.

We can’t move frames up as we have the flow super on. I think we’ll go ahead with a small split- especially if we see activity in the queen cells.

That way if it is swarm we will maybe prevent it and creat a new colony in one swoop. If it’s supercedure the main hive will have at least 5 new queens to choose from. There is good weather ahead after much rain the bees have a lot of pollen stored but little honey.

I did an inspection today and like @Semaphore noticed a lot of drones. I’ve added some pics of some frames

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You have some fully formed queen cells there- looks like they could hatch any time in the next 7 days (pic 2 at the bottom of that weird comb on the left)? It also looks to me like a few already hatched queen cells- or just about to be fully capped in pics one and three. Have you shaken all the bees off those frames? Doesn’t seem to be many bees?

Yes I had shaken them down, plenty of bees about. Thanks for the reply so what should I do now remove those?

I’m not sure… maybe nothing? Did you see the queen or eggs? I can see some larvae so there was a queen at least quite recently. You Need to understand why they are making new queens- are they about to swarm- or is it supercedure? I don’t know- I’m a beginner- hopefully someone else who does will chime in.

Now would be a good time to make a split if you wanted to increase your hive number. Looks like soon your going to have a lot of new queens potentially

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Spoke with my local beek today and he advised to remove them.

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you might want to get a second opinion? Some people seem to think removal only makes things worse- if they are going to swarm they are going to swarm… Also it is a good opportunity to get more queens and colonies perhaps? any thoughts @JeffH , @Michael_Bush @Dawn_SD ?

I agree with @Semaphore, removing them is an old-fashioned concept which achieves nothing. If they want to swarm, they will just make more. If they are play cups, they will also make more. The thing to establish is what the hive mind is thinking. You do that by looking in the cups. If there is royal jelly and a larva in the cell, they are trying to make new queens, either for swarming or for supersedure. What you do next depends on which of these is true. There is an excellent article to help you work out what to do. It is written much better than I could describe here, so why not take a look at:

In case you find developing queens in your queen cells, and you think they are swarm cells, here is another booklet that tells you what to do:
The method which is recommended in the first booklet is shown on p17 of the second one. :wink:

Please let us know what you decide to do and what happens.


I break all the queen cells down if they are ready to swarm. What I’ll do sometimes is remove all of the brood except one frame. The frame with the least hatching brood, also it must have young larvae & eggs. I’ll put that one frame in the middle & flank it with fresh foundation frames. I’ll put the brood frames I removed into weaker colonies.

You can do a demaree board, that’s an option that I have never tried.

You can take a split out of the hive by taking the queen with the split, or take a split without the queen.

There are lots of options. Removing the queen cells only isn’t one of them.

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The queen cells are different ages which would indicate swarm cells. I would do a split if I have swarm cells. I would not destroy them as you often end up queenless if you do.


I prefer my bees to make new queens from emergency queen cells in preference to swarm queen cells. It takes longer to get a new queen, but it reduces the risk of them swarming.

WOW! Greatfull for all the advice but must say I was even more torn on wich way to go after reading them. Saying that I went with my local beeks advice and removed the queen cells. Fast foward a week and noticed the bee numbers down. Inspection today shows no new brood/larva but on the 4th 5th and 6th frame on the bottom box i found another 3 queen cells. One of these queen cells appears to have recently hatched (is that the right term??) So will give it some time and check if she is a successfull in taking the throne, and starts laying. Fingers and toes crossed!