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Swarming imminent? confusing signs


OK- I am mentoring another beekepper- which is a bit of a joke considering I am a newbee myself… However I do what I can.

I inspected my friends hive yesterday and could not read the signs…

basically the hive is fairly full of bees- a good covering on every frame. there is a lot of capped brood in a very nice solid pattern. Every frame has capped honey stores at the top- and a fair amount of pollen too. There are many larvae of various sizes. I only saw one small patch of eggs on one frame. Didn’t see the queen.

However- there were queen cups (10?)- most empty but a few with liquid in them. Also there was one large perfectly formed and capped queen cell. just one. There was also another empty queen cell that appeared to have been ‘torn down’ with a large torn gash. It was fully drawn out…

I am tempted to say they are about to swarm- but I would have expected more capped queen cells- and maybe not the torn down one? At least not at this stage?

what’s going on?

We added 3 fresh frames of foundation to the brood box and 4 to the honey super (it’s a long horizontal hive).


g’day Jack, Jeff was just about to send you a message. then he realised that his own bees might be about to swarm so he took off. :slight_smile: Wilma

PS, there are a few swarms in our area and he set up a trap out a few days ago and now he has to do another one tomorrow.


A cup with nothing in it means nothing. A cup with a larvae in it, means they are raising a new queen. Signs of swarming are, nectar in the otherwise empty cells in the middle of the brood nest (backfilling), A lot (proportionate to the number of bees in the hive) of queen cells with larvae of different ages. A high density of bees.



Hi Jack, because it is still Spring, I would assume that they are preparing to swarm. Time is on your side. I would weaken or open the brood up after removing that single queen cell.

I haven’t read anything about liquid in queen cells, however I’ve seen a lot of it myself. When I see that, I’m guessing that the liquid is larval food & that the bees put it there to encourage the queen to lay an egg in the cell. Then I take what I feel is an appropriate measure & weaken the brood out a bit.


I had a look at the page from your site- and I am left a little confused by what I saw in that hive. There was some back-filling of honey, but there wasn’t very much drone brood at all- there was a fully capped queen cell- but it was in the middle of a frame- and there was also a torn down queen cell. The hive was booming but not overly crowded. There were queen cups and some appeared to have royal jelly in them- but none of them were as advanced as that one fully capped cell. There was a large amount of fully capped worker brood. There were very few eggs visible.

Still- I am guessing on the balance of probabilities maybe it is about to swarm- and probably we should go and do a split- ASAP.


Hi Jack

I’m thinking perhaps superdedure. I think one of my hives has just done this possibly as you are describing. I see say 10 queen cups - but unlike yours, there is nothing in them on very close inspection, although at first blush one could be mistaken. They are only those little teacup things. Is that what you mean? There is evidence of 3 torn down full queen cells - 2 in the middle and one at the bottom. Solid brood (but about half dead with chalkbrood!) Oh and yes, I have/had 2 laying queens in the hive too.


Sometimes things are clearly one thing or the other (swarm, supersedure, emergency etc.). Sometimes the signs are ambiguous. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, then swarming is probably as good of a guess as any. A split can always be recombined later. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s not the time of year for swarming…


I’m south- so swarming seems like a distinct possibility- though this same hive swarmed already a few months ago but then it has shown a proclivity to swarm… Looks like maybe we will do a last minute Taranov split.

@Dan2 yep the queen cups are little cups- quite distinctive- and I’m fairly certain I saw royal jelly in one.


HI Jack,

Just a bit on my story in case it might help you.

I was in the process of trying to get the bees to make a new queen because of all the chalkbrood. I split the hive only to find some days later that there were no emergency queen cells in the split I thought had no queen, but rather there were fresh eggs in both hives. I had managed to split the hives with a queen in each split. I put them back together quick smart (not wanting an extra hive) and hope the new queen survives.

I had seen all the little queen cups and the torn down queen cells, but through inexperience did the split anyhow. The queen cups are still there. All perfectly formed but empty. Remnants of the queen cells still remain too.

I know you will have another look before doing anything, but I’d just suggest (you probably do anyhow) that you make sure you have the sun shining down the queen cups when looking in them and visual aids if required.


that’s weirdd to get eggs in both.

looks like we are doing a Taranov split this afternoon- should be exciting- I wonder if we will see any queen/s?

we will pretty much do this:


I did one of these a month or so back. Quite exciting! If you have multiple queens following a supercedure (you have had one queen cell hatch) you could end up with a laying queen in each. I guess it could possibility disturb a mating flight… that might be one possible negative …


Well it’s done now! Never saw the queen - and the ‘swarm’ bee cluster wasn’t as large as I hoped. Still don’t know if that hive was about to swarm or something else. Either way it won’t be swarming now… Have to wait and see what happens. All in all I like the Taranov idea for hives that are likely to swarm at any moment- a good last ditch maneuver…