Hi, I installed a package of bees and a caged queen into an empty (but not new) hive recently, and the bees have me concerned. Here’s the history:
April 4: Installed bees and queen. Continuously fed bees 1:1 sugar water via entrance feeder.
April 12: Bees had started to build on 3 frames; approximately 1/3 of each frame (one frame total). No brood seen but queen was out and about.
April 22: No additional comb has been drawn out. There is some capped brood and about 6-7 fully formed queen cells. So far, the hive has consumed a gallon of sugar water.
Why have they stopped building comb?
Why are they replacing their queen already if she’s clearly laying?
Welcome to the group @sararrc. If you saw the queen earlier and new capped brood has happened she is laying. The other bees may have detected she isn’t healthy and have decided to supersede her and depending on when they built those queen cells you would have an emerging virgin queen on day 20 that would need to mate, then about three days later start laying new eggs. Then 20-25 days later new bees emerge. Depending on how many bees are in your hive that may be too long of a process for them to survive-- the best advice is to find a bee club near you that may be able to help diagnose the issue and offer a replacement queen right away to ensure your colony is building up. A picture of how many bees in your hive would be super helpful to understand if you are in trouble. You mentioned the hive is not new-- can you elaborate what you mean-- was there frames with wax comb already in there? Where did that come from (asking to help understand if there was an issue with the comb that might be impacting the colony now).
Welcome to the forum Sara, you will find lots to read and folks happy to help you.
What you saying about your colony there is something far from normal. It sounds like you have done everything right, but I always feed internally when it is needed, and an entrance feeder can make robbing a risk.
It is normal for a colony to make a few ‘play queen cells’ that often never get used but having 7 fully made sounds like the colony has decided to replace her and nothing you do will stop that happening, especially if the cells already have larvae in them.
I have sometimes added new frames of foundation that the bees take no interest in building the comb, this can happen if there is not much nectar or pollen about so the bees don’t need extra cells for storage. When things improve for foraging and bee numbers increase you will find they will get back to building more comb.
Hi Tim! The hive equipment was used previously by me, for a colony that was decimated by yellow jackets a couple years ago. The frames have some wax on the perimeter, but I cut out most of the wax, as the yellow jackets had destroyed it.
The failing hive has less bees than when I installed them, but their numbers are not desperately low. I inspected them mid-day today as well, so I suspect a fair amount were out foraging when I was in their hive.
I installed another package into another hive at the same time as the failing package. And that hive is thriving – they’ve filled up a brood box with comb and brood already, and I’ve given them a medium super today to keep expanding. Would it be advisable to donate an uncapped brood frame from the healthy hive and place it into the failing hive?
Any chance of a photo or three? One man’s fully-formed is another man’s play cup. It would help to see the brood pattern too. Maybe she wasn’t well-mated for some reason. How much food (pollen and honey) do they have stored?
That concerns me a bit. Entrance feeders are always more prone to robbing. I always use “in-hive” feeders - a one gallon inverted pail in my case, but there are lots of ways to do it. That way, you are far less likely to see robbing.
I installed a package on April 8th. Fed with 1 gallon 1:1 syrup inside the hive and half of a pollen substitute patty. Inspected today. They have 2 frames of confluent brood in all stages, nice brood pattern, queen seen.
I installed a second package on April 11th. Fed with 1 gallon 1:1 syrup inside the hive, and half of a pollen substitute patty. Inspected today. They have 2 frames of confluent brood in all stages, nice brood pattern, queen seen, active and healthy.
Both hives have only used about 1/2 of the syrup and less than half of the patty. I did see a few queen cups, but none of them were “charged” with a larva and royal jelly.
If you can take some photos, we can help you with better advice.
Hi Dawn, I’m adding a photo below to show one side of the frame that has the queen cells. There are a few more of the same on the opposite side of the frame.
I will need to modify my initial statement a bit – There are 4 frames that are about 1/3-1/2 filled with comb. I saw them festooning when I went in just now to take these photos, so they seem to indeed be working on comb.
They have very little empty comb – most cells have brood, uncapped (some capped) honey, or pollen in them so I think they’re eating and foraging well. I did not notice any uncapped brood, but there’s half a frame full of capped brood, plus the capped brood in the photos.
The question remains though – why are they replacing a new queen?
I suspect @Peter48 might be right – maybe she’s just not healthy enough for them.
Adding one additional photo to how much space the bees occupy currently and how many bees are in there. If they do indeed need a new queen, I would think there are enough to survive the process; especially since there’s capped brood, right?
Excellent job with the photos they help tremendously. When you see those queen cells on the face of the comb they are generally emergency cells vs when they are at the bottom of the frames they are usually swarm cells. The good news here is that if your queen isn’t up to par they are already prepping for a replacement and it looks to me like you have enough bees to support the time it will take for a new queen to emerge. The question is if you have enough food resources. If you could borrow a honey frame from the other hive to put in that might help things along. The front feeder is controversial— some like them some don’t. I top feed only. I’ve been seeing examples of using a ziplock baggie with sugar 1:1 water mix and you take a toothpick and poke a few holes and then let the bees sip away as they need to and avoid flooding the hive. It is said to help prevent robbing with weaker colonies. Yours actually doesn’t look weak to me, just need a bit of extra resources as insurance. I would contact the seller you bought the queen from to let them know she is failing— reputable queen sellers replace them for free. If they are local that is what I would expect as speedy remedy and you will have to pinch the original queen and release the new queen from her cage with candy plug per usual process. This is a great opportunity early in your keeping this season to gain more experience.
Thank you for the photos. As @Tim_Purdie says, they are extremely helpful, and very nice quality too.
You may just have answered your own question. If there is no uncapped brood, and you have a lot of emergency queen cells (which those look like), then your queen probably died at least 9 days ago, but less than 18 days ago. She must have laid eggs in the hive after installation, because you have capped worker brood and charged queen cells. She can’t have been laying in the hive more recently than 9 days ago, or you would see uncapped larvae. This is quite a useful web site for understanding why I am saying this:
So why did she die? We will probably never know. She may have been rolled inadvertently during an inspection, she may just not have been healthy. However, she clearly isn’t alive any more.
You could contact your package supplier and ask whether they are willing to replace the queen. If they are, you need to destroy those queen cells. If they are not, you could let the new queen emerge and mate. It may be a little risky, as I think you have some Africanized bees in your region. If you are willing to take on that risk, the hive should be fine, as you say. The other option is to try to find a mated queen. You will still need to destroy those queen cells if you want the colony to accept an outside queen. I would contact these guys, as their queens are awesome. Don’t use the online system, call them - online often says that they have nothing, but if you call, they may be able to find you a queen:
Sorry you have had this experience, but it shows how fascinating bees really are. Your photos were incredibly helpful as were your comments about the lack of uncapped brood, thank you.
I agree, those photos are helpful & they certainly look like emergency queen cells. Another thing that can happen to a young queen is they can get balled during an inspection. I’ve seen a few queens getting balled which makes me wonder how many other times it happens without me seeing it.
If you’re worried about the population, you could donate a frame with mainly emerging bees, that will be a big help.
Would it be fair to ask for a replacement queen, after you’ve done inspections?
Great photos and they explain a lot. The queen cells are not play cells, they are for real and have new queens forming in them.
So we can assume the queen is already dead. You have a few options that the other members have covered well for the colony to have a new queen. If it were me I would let nature do its thing and let a new queen emerge from her cell, she will kill the yet to emerge queens then harden up for a few days and do her mating flight. The worker bees will knock down most of the queen cells completely but may leave one or two partially made. All going well she will return and after a few days begin laying.
The colony is strong enough as it is but a frame of capped brood donated to it won’t do it any harm. Especially if your other hive is stronger. I’m often weakening out super strong hives by donating a frame of capped brood to a weaker hive so that all the hives at my apiary are about equal in bee numbers. There are many benefits in doing that.
Thanks everyone for the thorough feedback and insight! I am going to go the route of nature, letting them re-queen themselves and hoping that she mates successfully.
I had bought the package bees from Olivarez, but I won’t ask them for a replacement queen. I had inspected the bees between installation and finding the queen cells, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to fix something that could have been my fault.
Just wanted to update you all, since you put so much thought into this issue –
The hive successfully re-queened themselves and she is laying ample brood now. Before I had confirmed whether she would mate successfully, I ended up pulling a frame of uncapped brood from my other hive and putting it into the struggling hive, just in case they needed the extra bee support. Looks like this all worked out – thanks again!