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Play cups or swarm cells?


We just checked our two strong hives and they couldn’t have looked more different. One had a full super of honey and very nice worker brood pattern with the odd drone brood scattered at the edge of some of the frames. The only slight concern I had was about 4-5 cups dotted around the brood (not all at the bottom). All were quite small and empty like the one shown below, but i’m unsure if they are play cups or the start of swarm preparations.

The other hive had eaten more of their honey and although they did have some nice worker brood but had A LOT of drones in it and also a full frame of drone brood.

. I will try and cycle out this frame once they are hatched as I don’t want it in my brood box!

In the end we took 2 frames of brood from each hive and gave them 4 drawn frames with quite a lot of honey in them. We will check again in about 3 weeks and maybe split them again as long as they haven’t swarmed by then!




Play cups are normal and the bees make them all the time. The action I take is if I see play cups in the swarming season and they are empty then I will check the hive in a week. If there is an egg in one then I will look in three days. If there is royal jelly in them then they are no longer play cups they are queen cells, and the colony needs immediate attention. I fear 3 weeks inspection intervals are too long.


Thanks for that - I will try and check next week then to see what they have decided to do :slight_smile:


Hi Julia, I never give play cups that look like the one in your photo a second glance. It is the same color as the surrounding wax. It’s when I see them extended down with lighter color new wax that I take a look inside. At that point, even if I don’t see any eggs, I’ll weaken the brood in some way. Either a preemptive swarm control or remove some of the brood frames to boost weaker colonies. Then give them fresh foundation.


Great to know, thanks!

As I took two frames of brood and gave them fresh foundation anyway, I will just leave them alone until the next check. Interestingly, the same hive made a cup like this last year too, and didn’t swarm so maybe it’s just their thing :smile:


Yes for sure, you see lots of them in the brood area, mainly along the bottoms & sides of the frames. In areas that don’t impede their normal activities. While they are small & are the same color as the surrounding wax, I never worry about them. I guess it would be more appropriate to call them play saucers, rather than play cups.