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Has my queen been killed?

So today I did an inspection on my main hive that I have. I have never been able to spot the queen in this colony, but have always spotted eggs, larva and capped brood. Today was no different during the inspection.
As I was going through all the frames in the brood box I noticed quite a number of chalkbrood mummies on the floor. The chalkbrood in the frames themselves is not really an issue now, they are from earlier when there was a bit of chalkbrood.
Anyhow, I decided to take the bottom board off so I could remove all the mummies, which I did with no dramas. Upon putting the hive back together I noticed a small (about 10) ball of bees on the ground. After a closer look I realised they were surrounding the queen! I scooped the ball up and put them back in the brood box. My concern is with how they were behaving. They were extremely tight around the queen, and even after I put them back in the brood box they didn’t release her. To my novice eye it looked as they were being quite aggressive . Should I be worried? I can’t think of a reason for them to kill the queen in that situation, but I’m worried that’s what they were doing.

It’s very possible. Balling is a method that bees use to kill, and they can sometimes use it on their queen. It can be triggered by disturbances but its impossible to predict.
On the other hand bees will also surround a queen, and if the queen somehow came to be outside the hive on the ground she would surely attract workers around her.
Of course, there are other possibilities, she might not even be your queen.
All you can do is to leave the hive alone for a week and then check again. If the queen has been killed, you will see an absence of eggs and some emergency queen cells to replace her.
Don’t blame yourself, if she has been killed its just one of those things that bees do from time to time…

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I agree with Jim. It can’t be predicted & it’s not caused by anything that we’ve done wrong as beekeepers.

Having said that: just the mere fact of us doing a routine inspection will stress the bees. The bees see us as nothing less than another predator. They say that sometimes, or on the odd occasion bees will ball & kill a queen while the colony is stressed. I think I’ve lost a lot of queen bees due to balling. Young queens are especially vulnerable to balling, so I found.

Thanks for your input Jim, I’ll just have to wait and see what has happened. I’m sure learning to expect the unexpected!

Yeah I’ve more or less resigned myself to the fact they killed her. Will wait and see. The one positive about the whole thing was I finally spotted the queen haha

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So an update on the situation. I did an inspection today, and straight away noticed eggs then also spotted the queen! My current theory of what happened is, the queen was actually from my other small nuc hive which is a small swarm I caught. On that same day I changed the bees over from the swarm box to a nuc hive. I’m thinking the queen must have somehow ended up on the ground, and crawled over towards the other hive where those bees balled her.

Now I have a new dilemma. The small swarm colony is really very small, so will they be sufficient to raise a new queen successfully? Upon inspecting today there were two queen cells, so they are in the process. Would it be worth putting a frame of bees in there from another hive just to strengthen numbers?

A good way to improve numbers is to shake a couple of brood frames, minus the queen onto the ground on a blanket or something similar. The older bees will return to the donor hive, leaving the nurse bees behind. Then place the receiving hive’s entrance near the nurse bees. It wont take long (sometimes instantly) before the nurse bees march into the receiving hive, where they’ll be readily received. The more newly emerged bees, the better because I’ve noticed that a lot of bees still return to the parent hive.

It’s a good strategy to adopt just prior to taking the receiving hive to a new location, far enough away so that no bees return to the donor hive.

Thanks as always for your input @JeffH
Would it be the same thing just shaking a few frames of bees into the nuc? Most will return to donor hive, but some will stay.

I think you have worked out exactly what happened.
For the nuc I would leave it as it is now, the queens should emerge within the next week and one will hopefully start laying two or three weeks after. It’s at this stage that I would boost the nuc by adding a frame of about to emerge capped brood.

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Hi @Wrenhill , & you’re welcome. The reason for not shaking the bees directly into the nuc is to avoid the older bees from fighting. The nurse bees will be readily accepted, the older bees wont, plus it’s pretty to watch them marching in. I always take a second look at the bees before they march in, just in case I missed seeing the queen on the frame, which this process allows for.

The beauty of adding nurse bees is the fact that they have a lot of usefulness left in them.

cheers

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Thanks for your advice @JimM
I’m nervously waiting my next inspection to see if a queen has emerged from a cell

That makes sense @JeffH
Because my hive is on a stand, is it ok to move it onto the ground (and blanket) just while the nurse bees are marching in? And then back onto stand once finished?

Hi @Wrenhill , no there’s no need to do that. All you need to do is erect something that lines up with the landing pad, with a board that sits flush, with or without a towel. Then shake the bees onto the board, slightly away from the entrance. After all the older bees have taken flight & returned to the donor hive, the nurse bees will regroup on the board. It doesn’t take long for the nurse bees to smell the entrance, before they start marching in. All of the bees that have not done orientation flights will stay with the hive. The others will return.

I had to do that myself 2 days ago with a nuc that was critically low in numbers. An inspection yesterday revealed a much healthier looking population. In this case I moved the flat lid forward, creating a gap, before shaking 2 frames of nurse bees onto the roof, which did the trick.

It’s best not to disturb them at all in this period, as its a very sensitive time in the hive. I would look again in about 3 weeks from last time and hopefully you will find eggs. You can strengthen them then too.

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Hi Jim. @Wrenhill did say “The small swarm colony is really very small”. With that in mind, it’s always a good strategy to do what’s necessary to boost their numbers, especially with nurse bees because they can perform all of the duties necessary to help a weak colony going forward. Nurse bees introduced with the method I described are readily accepted by the receiving colony with no disturbance whatsoever.

Hi Jeff, yes I agree, your method doesn’t involve opening the colony so it should be fine. I’ve never tried this way myself but i might this year :slight_smile: It seems very similar to a one method of housing a swarm when you dump the swarm on a ramp leading up to the new hive entrance. Its always a great sight to see the colony rush into their new hive :).

Normally I would be reluctant to add bees to a colony until they are actually needed and if this colony doesn’t produce a laying queen they would be wasted, also weakening the donor hive. However, keeping the colony viable until that point is reached is essential too.

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Hi again Jim, I don’t consider adding the bees as a waste because it’s easy to add another frame of brood to try again. I guess it all depends on availability & the time of season. My theory is: at the right time of season, one queen can temporarily do the work of two, especially if it means that a second viable queen gets produced.

I checked the colony that I strengthened the other day. It was still low on numbers, especially to successfully make a new queen. What I did was move a strong nuc away, before placing the weak nuc in that spot. Then after a lot of bees left the strong nuc to return to where the weak nuc sat, I bundled it up & took it well away so that no more bees would leave it & return to the old site. I think I equalized the populations nicely.

The weak colony was the result of a kind of walk-away split, which I don’t like doing for the very reason that this colony got se weak. Too many bees went back to the parent hive, which I should have monitored & done something about a lot sooner.