Losing the queen is one of the worst things that you as a beekeeper can experience. And how can you lose a queen? The queen can be lost, dead or simply gone. If any of these happens, then you are not in the best of places as a beekeeper. The chances are that your beekeeping will just vanish into thin air. In other words, the bee population will go down up to the point where there will be more bees. You will be left wondering whatever happened to the once thriving and buzzing colony.
It is therefore essential for you to always make sure that your queen is as fit as a fiddle when you do inspections. If in any case, you discover that she is dead or mysteriously gone, don’t despair. Be glad you found out in due course. Know the signs of a missing queen so that you can act in good time and save your beekeeping.
There is one of the two things that a beekeeper that finds themselves in this situation can do. First, they can leave the colony to its own devices and raise the queen or secondly, you can introduce a new one.
What happens to the queenless colony?
In the absence of a queen, the worker bees are unable to lay fertilized eggs. And why is this so? The queen produces a kind of chemical that affects the worker ovary. It prevents them from laying eggs. Worker bees are still female bees and can lay eggs in the long absence of a queen. Unfortunately, the resulting larvae lead to drones –male bees.
Without the queen, the number of workers goes down and eventually there no more of them left. The inability to produce new workers is what spells doom for the colony. You will wake up one day and find out that your once productive hive is no more.
The queen is the only bee with the ability to produce fertilized eggs. Depending on what they are fed on the larvae may become a queen or worker. Worker bees are only fed on royal jelly and switch to honey and pollen diet later. However, queen bees are only fed on royal jelly. This means that worker bees possess the ability to transform larvae into either a queen or worker. However, time is of critical importance.
The worker bees are only afforded a short window of opportunity within which to convert larvae into a queen. Failure to do this, the conversion would not happen, and the colony will be left queenless. Many colonies succeed in this process, but there are others that fail. This occurs when the larvae from the dead queen are too old to be transformed into a new queen. In the wild, the colonies gradually die out.
There is a rumor among beekeepers that self-interest is what ends the colony following the loss of the queen. Nothing is as untrue as this claim. Workers continue to forage and protect the hive where necessary. They do not stop executing their duties.
Leaving the colony to rear its own queen
On discovering that your queen is missing, don’t go to a corner depressed, courting your misfortune. In some cases, the queen is just among the other bees and should instead check for eggs or young larvae. This is the best sign that your queen is around. Or at least was in the last few days. Relax and keep checking.
If at all your fears are confirmed, and you find out the queen has died or is just simply missing, you can let the colony raise a new one. Your role here will be to make sure that there are eggs to create the queen. Capped brood or older larvae are just too late to transform effectively into a queen.
Ordinarily, when the queen is getting old, the workers know and start preparing bigger cells to hold the 10 to 20 female larvae. Only one of them will become the queen when they hatch. The first to hatch stings the others to death and is left as the queen.
Bees know when the queen is too old and about to die through pheromone – a chemical she produces. Pheromones serve as an inducement to the worker bees on how they should behave.
Back to queen replacement! If you find there are no eggs that will transform into a queen, then it’s a good idea to order a queen.
Introducing a Queen Bee
Ordering a queen from your supplier is the fastest way to remedy the queenless colony situation. Just ring your provider, and a queen will be on the way to provide a lifeline to your hive. And there are benefits associated with getting a new queen. First, the queen is fertile and ready to start with this laying business. Furthermore, your bee stock will be pedigree. That means the chances of getting bees with the wrong qualities are minimal.
Unfortunately, the process of introducing a queen is not as easy as it sounds. You can’t just throw her to the colony and expect the other bees to crown her. The new queen may be treated as an intruder and others may attack her. Do it gradually. The other bees need time to grow accustomed to her scent.
To go about it, get one frame from the brood box. However, it has to be one with little or no brood. Make sure to shake all the bees of this frame since you will need it for the next one week. Mostly, you will lose any brood that will be within it. Deal with it.
After removing a frame, create a space and hang the new queen there – of course with the queen cage. It is the same way with what you did when you first installed the bees. Don’t forget to uncork the queen cage and bare the candy plug. This plug should be looking up so that any bees that die within it will not block the path and prevent the queen from getting out.
Leave the hive for a week and only come back to check whether the queen has gotten out and she is faring well. She should be healthy and lay eggs.