Supersedure!

I went into my bee hive on Friday to do a thorough queen check and to see how my hive beetle treatment was helping the pest situation. One of the biggest challenges for the inexperienced beekeeper is finding the queen. I’m determined to get good at this, and I wasn’t going to quit on Friday until I found her.

What I found instead was about 6 or 7 of these:

These are either supersedure cells or emergency queen cells. I’m not sure which. Basically, my hive’s queen has either died or proven herself too weak to manage the colony.

In a supersedure situation, the workers recognize that their queen is weak, and they start building queen cells. They don’t build too many and most of the potential queens are laid at the about same time. Once they mature, whoever hatches first will kill all of the other young queens in their cells. She may also kill the old queen, or they may coexist until the old queen dies.

In an emergency situation, the queen dies and workers must modify existing cells into queen cells and select worker larvae to raise into queens (they become queens based on what they are fed). Apparently queens born of this situation don’t always look exactly like queens.

It’s hard for me to tell which of the two situations I have going on. The number of cells indicates a supersedure (typically up to 5 cells). The placement of the cells on the face of the comb seems more like an emergency. Based on the number and the pattern (really a lack of pattern) to the existing brood cells, it seems that I have a supersedure on my hands. Also, I did notice some bees hatching out of cells, so until recently I had an active queen. There was more capped brood to be hatched, too, but I didn’t see any eggs. Very curious.

Potential causes of my supersedure:

  • Extended inclement weather. After I installed my package we had two nights of 40-degree temperatures. And we have had a very wet spring (half my perennials and even my maple show signs of fungus).
  • My workers are older. They are starting to die out and they see that the queen is not laying at a replacement rate. I’ve definitely noticed a decline in bees.

So what do I do now? Wait. This is the hardest part for me. I will wait until this Saturday to open my hive again and see what has developed. Hopefully a new queen hatched not long after my last inspection and will mate within the week. Then we can get busy laying eggs again, and I can practice looking for the queen again as well.

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