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HomeBeeKeepingQueen rearing miscellany - The Apiarist

Queen rearing miscellany – The Apiarist

Synopsis : Queen cell choice by the beekeeper or the bees – which is extra dependable? Nectar assortment  and comb constructing by requeening colonies. Three miscellaneous queen rearing matters this week.


Could to July are the busiest months of the beekeeping season for queen rearing . We’re quick approaching the midway level so I believed I’d write about some associated matters, slightly than rehash beforehand lined areas, or pen a magnum opus on only one topic.

This forces me to be a bit much less expansive. It means you’ll be able to skip over much less intervening textual content within the (useless?) hope of discovering one thing of curiosity … 😉

Right here’s one I made earlier …

It additionally means I ought to take care of issues in much less element.

Alas – I’m scripting this introduction after finishing nearly all of the submit – I’ve failed and wrote much more than initially supposed on the primary subject so the miscellany will spill over to subsequent week as effectively 🙁 .

A loyal listener reader asks …

Followers of Tim Harford’s incomparable Extra or Much less can be acquainted with the idea of loyal listeners . Since this isn’t a podcast listeners is clearly inappropriate.

Sadly, I’ve singularly didn’t provide you with a synonym for loyal beginning with an ‘R’, so shedding the all-important alliteration with ‘readers’.

By no means thoughts … let’s get again on subject.

One of many pleasures of writing often – apart from perpetually taking part in catch-up with my bloated electronic mail inbox – is corresponding with beekeepers across the nation . Generally that is within the feedback part, but it surely additionally includes a substantial quantity of electronic mail … together with many questions or requests for assist.

As I’ve beforehand talked about, generally these exchanges are quick and candy.

Q. What’s the recipe for skinny syrup?

A. D’oh!

In these situations that could be the one correspondence however in different circumstances there’s a little bit of back and forth.

Common readers will recognise some names repeatedly showing within the remark sections. Most of the questions requested are attention-grabbing and a few are difficult , forcing me to do some considering and/or studying.

A number of permit me to increase additional on a subject that I’ve lined, explaining one thing I both ‘meant to, however ran out of area/time/caffeine’ … or ‘fully forgot’.

And Maccon Keane, a common reader 😉 from the West of Eire requested simply such a query within the feedback to the submit final week about beekeeper vs. employee choice of queen cells.

Does beekeeper choice of emergency cells cut back high quality?

Right here’s the query in full:

Thanks for a extremely attention-grabbing submit. My query is that this. Utilizing the nucleus methodology of swarm management by queen elimination and induction of the emergency response the beekeeper has to pick out a queen cell to move the unique colony. From these information there’s a one in 20 likelihood (5%) that the chosen cell is not going to emerge. It is a downside however low danger. Nevertheless there’s a one in two (50%) likelihood that the beekeeper will choose a cell that the bees would have torn down and due to this fact actively choose a lesser high quality queen. For a person colony this might not be notably vital however over a number of generations this detrimental selective stress (50%) towards the very best quality Queens will quickly result in a deterioration in inventory in comparison with that which might have occurred had the queen been chosen by the bees themselves. Are you able to consider any strategy to keep away from introducing this systematic detrimental choice stress to make sure we let the bees select the queen as a result of as you title the piece ‘the bees know greatest’?

This is one thing I’d considered, however I’d run out of area to debate it.

Let’s agree from the outset that the 5% non-emergence price is an appropriate failure price. It will likely be compounded by a small proportion of queens that fail to mate .

The beekeeper can’t do very a lot about both of those.

However what concerning the beekeeper having a 50:50 likelihood of choosing a queen cell that the bees would have torn down?

Will this result in a deterioration of the standard of the bees over time?

It’s an attention-grabbing query.

Why do the employees cull about 50% of creating queens?

In the event you bear in mind, 50% of emergency cells had been torn down and these typically contained lighter and smaller queens.

I prompt, or hinted strongly, at three the reason why the bees may favour massive queens :

  • increased fecundity i.e. laying extra eggs and/or laying over an extended interval
  • elevated polyandry (and therefore colony health)
  • extra prone to survive fights with ‘sister’ queens throughout polygyny discount


The researchers addressed this by counting the ovarioles and the quantity of the spermatheca. There have been no variations between the chosen queens or people who would have been culled. This means, although it’s not definitive, that every one ought to have been equally fecund (assuming related numbers of matings and many others.).

You could possibly in all probability measure this (with enough power, money and time) but it surely’s not a trivial factor to find out . I feel the similarity within the variety of ovarioles and the capability of the spermatheca is compelling sufficient .

My assumption is that every one, or at the very least the bulk, of queens can be sufficiently fecund to efficiently head a colony.

There’s a current paper on genetic and phenotypic variability of queens that could be helpful right here, however I’ve not had time to learn it correctly. If and once I do – if related – I’ll replace issues.

Elevated polyandry

I prompt that bigger, heavier, queens may fly extra strongly, and so spend longer in drone congregation areas or go to extra DCAs … and thereby mate with extra drones. David Tarpy hints at this in one of many papers cited final week (quoting unpublished outcomes.).

Nevertheless, I don’t assume the work was ever revealed in a peer reviewed paper as I’ve been unable to seek out it.

That doesn’t imply it’s fallacious . Once more, it could be a time consuming factor to find out. Queen mating numbers are fairly variable so there must be a really massive variety of repeats to get statistically compelling outcomes, however it’s doable given enough time, cash and power.

After all, bigger/heavier queens may fly much less strongly. This hasn’t been examined.

Polygyny discount

I feel this trait is basically irrelevant within the context of our beekeeping.

By definition we cull all however one creating queen, so the one that’s chosen ought to by no means need to struggle one other queen. Nevertheless employees might choose for this – maybe to keep away from the danger of two queens combating and each being broken/killed – but when they do we will safely ignore it.

Are these ‘decrease high quality’ queens quantifiably worse for beekeeping?

So, of the three potential variations prompt I’d argue we will rule the final out as being irrelevant (for managed colonies), and we will maybe safely assume that fecundity can be enough (assuming the queen mates with sufficient drones).

Elevated polyandry stays an open query.

So, one chance is that any queen cell ought to end in a queen that can be ok, assuming the queen emerges and mates efficiently.

A second chance is that any variations between the ‘excessive’ and ‘low’ high quality queens – chosen from a single colony – are so minor that they’ve little or no materials impact on our beekeeping.

Related, however not fairly the identical factor.

It’s price noting that the solely measurement traits (measured) that differed had been weight and both thorax size or width. Different dimensions e.g. wing size, had been related.

Is there different proof to recommend that variations are prone to be minor (with regard to beekeeping)?

Capped queen cells

Capped queen cells produced utilizing the Ben Harden queenright queen rearing system

In help of this I’d recommend that grafting day-old larvae wouldn’t be so universally (efficiently) practised if it routinely generated sub-standard queens.

It doesn’t.

If you graft you’re making the choice after lower than 24 hours of larval improvement. Nearly all of larvae that develop totally, emerge and mate, make completely acceptable queens.

However, from a beekeeping perspective, good high quality queens are sometimes outlined utilizing various standards.

In reality my definition of a superb high quality queen may effectively be completely different from one which the bees would ‘select’ … or, for that matter, that Maccon would favour.

Number of good high quality inventory

And that is the place I feel choice does have an enormous affect.

The traits I favour in my bees – regular on the comb, good mood, no following, frugality and many others.differ between my colonies.

I rating these traits and preferentially rear queens from the colonies that I take into account are my ’greatest’.

I do that by thirds:

  • My ‘worst’ third are all the time requeened – as quickly as is sensible – with queens from larvae from my ‘greatest’ third.
  • I equally requeen my ‘center’ third with similarly-sourced queens if I’ve sufficient spare, however am pleased to requeen the ‘center’ third from the ‘center’ third (so to talk).
  • The ‘worst’ third are by no means used for queen rearing (or allowed to rear queens from their very own larvae). The ‘worst’ third are additionally discouraged from rearing drones.

If the ‘worst’ third want swarm management I permit them to rear emergency cells, knock all of them again per week later – leaving them hopelessly queenless – after which add a body of eggs/larvae from a greater colony.

It’s a assured strategy to simply enhance the standard of your bees.

Which I feel just about brings me to the top of my reply to Maccon’s query.

In abstract … I believe the distinction between queens culled or not by the employees is both irrelevant for our beekeeping, so minor as to be unmeasurable, or swamped by different variables within the mating biology of honey bees (e.g. variety of drones out there, age of these drones and consequent sperm viability).

Over millennia many elements have resulted within the evolution of the employee choice of creating queens, however over a number of ‘honey bee generations’ of managed beekeeping I feel we will safely ignore them.

Moreover, for my part, the significance of utilizing a superb high quality colony because the supply of larvae for queen rearing far outweighs the inherent variation within the queens reared from anybody colony.

It’s a bit like computing … garbage in, garbage out.

Queenless colonies – honey and comb

To shut this submit on miscellaneous gadgets about queen rearing I believed I’d finish with an anecdote and an statement.

The previous is supported by little greater than my dodgy reminiscence and the latter is backed up by some actual science 🙂 .

Foraging effectivity and queenlessness

In Fife the spring honey supers are prepared for restoration and extraction. I collected the primary batch on Monday and have extra to get in a few days.

The height nectar circulate appears to have been within the final fortnight of Could. A lot of it’s oil seed rape.

Soon ...

Oil seed rape

Inevitably, a number of the colonies have already had swarm management utilized earlier than the height of the nectar circulate. All of my swarm management this 12 months has been utilizing the nucleus methodology.

On the first signal of swarm preparation (queen cells, both sealed or charged) I make up a nuc with the outdated queen, destroy any sealed queen cells and go away one charged cell. I return per week later and knock again all however the one chosen cell (which is now sealed). The queen subsequently emerges, mates and begins laying.

Which means that a number of colonies have been queenless all through the height nectar circulate.

All of those colonies have extra and/or heavier supers 🙂 .

Full super ready for extraction

Full tremendous prepared for extraction …

The queenless colonies appear to have doubled-down on nectar assortment and executed notably effectively this season.

I’ve seen this earlier than, but it surely’s actually apparent this spring.

My more and more foggy reminiscence has a dim recollection of beekeepers within the ‘olden days’ eradicating queens through the nectar circulate exactly as a result of they had been extra productive. I can’t bear in mind when or the place I heard/learn/imagined this.

Maintain on, not so quick

Are they gathering extra or simply utilizing much less as a result of there is no such thing as a brood to feed? Bear in mind, 8-9 days after making use of swarm management, there can be no larvae to feed as all eggs may have developed into sealed brood.

I may do the maths however there’s a bunch of assumptions to make concerning the quantity of unsealed brood when the queen was eliminated and many others.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument {that a} queenless colony shops extra nectar as a result of the foragers forage extra and as a result of there are fewer hungry mouths to feed within the colony.

Good … I’ve received a plan for subsequent season.

I’ll preemptively take away the queens 8-9 days earlier than the primary circulate and purchase 20,000 labels and 6 tons of jars in preparation for a bumper honey crop .

However, wait a minute … that are the colonies that often first begin swarm preparations?

That’s proper … the strongest colonies.

These are the colonies already filling a double brood field, or overflowing a single brood field.

Maybe they accumulate extra nectar for the easy purpose that there are extra foragers?

That’s not the impression I’ve once I evaluate the efficiency of what look like equally sturdy colonies with or with out queens. Nevertheless, ’seem’ is a little bit of a free definition and to make certain I’d have to depend frames of brood and the variety of foragers.

Nevertheless it’s an attention-grabbing factor to consider .

Drawing comb

One other factor I seen is that queenless colonies supplied with foundationless frames continued to attract contemporary comb. Clearly they don’t have to have eggs or larvae to occupy the brand new comb to stimulate comb constructing.

However the overwhelming majority of the comb drawn was drone comb.


Drone-worker-drone … this body drawn in a queenright colony

Which, in a roundabout approach, led me to this attention-grabbing paper:

Smith, M.L. (2018), Queenless honey bees construct infrastructure for direct replica till their new queen proves her price. Evolution, 72: 2810-2817.

Michael Smith dequeened colonies and investigated whether or not they constructed drone or employee comb. The colonies had been supplied with frames however no basis (which might in any other case decide the kind of comb drawn).

Comb constructing in queenless and queenright colonies.

His dequeened colonies constructed much less comb than these with laying queens (A, above), however over 80% of the comb they did construct was drone comb (D, above).

Moreover, they constructed drone comb even when the colony already contained 25% drawn drone comb (an quantity that often inhibits additional drone comb manufacturing in a queenright colony).

Lastly, he demonstrated that drawing new drone comb solely stopped when the colonies contained a brand new laying queen.

The terminal funding speculation

Why ought to a colony that was queenless or that contained a virgin queen (or for that matter a mated however not laying queen) produce drone comb?

The argument goes one thing like this.

A colony that’s hopelessly queenless can solely move its genes to subsequent generations if it produces laying employees – which lay unfertilised eggs – which consequently turn into drones that mate with virgin queens from different colonies.

The terminal funding speculation predicts that the reproductive funding of a person will change relying upon their reproductive prospects.

Basically – till there’s a laying queen current – the employees pessimistically put money into (i.e. construct) drone comb because it presents the one likelihood of reproductive success ought to the queen fail to begin laying.

As soon as the queen begins laying they begin drawing employee comb once more.

As Michael Smith neatly places it ’When confronted with reproductive uncertainty, honey bees might “hope” for the most effective, however they put together for the worst’.

And what are the possibilities of ‘the worst’ taking place?

’The worst’ being the failure to switch the queen.

Conveniently Michael Smith additionally measured the chances of profitable completion of every of the phases in rearing a alternative queen.

Schematic of the method of rearing a alternative queen, with chances of every final result.

In his research 98% of queens emerged from the capped cell , 95% of virgins returned from mating flights and 95% of these returnees had been efficiently mated.

0.98 x 0.95 x 0.95 = 0.88 i.e. a queenless colony has an 88% likelihood of efficiently requeening itself, assuming it has eggs/larvae appropriate for rearing a brand new queen.

And the relevance of any of this to sensible beekeeping?

  1. Trust throughout swarm management that the bees will predominantly rear good high quality queens (so it doesn’t matter which you select to maintain), if …
  2. they’re good high quality bees. And in the event that they’re not then present them with eggs/larvae from a greater colony. You possibly can simply take away deleterious traits and promote good ones. And, in case you’ve not received sufficient (or ok) colonies to select from both a) get extra 😉 , or b) ’telephone a pal’ and scrounge some appropriate eggs/larvae.
  3. Monitor nectar assortment by queenright and queenless colonies. Is it completely different? Many novice beekeepers fret when their colonies are queenless. Perhaps at sure occasions there are advantages 🙂 .
  4. In order for you employee comb, don’t present queenless colonies with foundationless frames.
  5. You must assume ~90% of your virgin queens (0.95 x 0.95) will mate efficiently and begin laying. All the time graft a number of extra larvae than you really want.




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