I came across an interesting observation the other day. I knew I had some supercedure cells in one of my hives during the previous inspection and it was time to get back in to check that the new queen had emerged, mated and was now laying eggs.
What I found interesting was seeing the new queen, which I caught and marked (yellow dot for 2021!), but also seeing multiple capped queen cells. What was unusual about this was that the first queen that emerges from her cell will search out the remaining queen cells and rip them down, killing the queens inside. There can only be one survivor. Brutal, I know. This is the micro version of ‘Game of Thrones’.
A noteworthy observation
There were around another half dozen queen cells that had their sides ripped open. A sign that a virgin queen has emerged and been on her murderous rampage. As opposed to seeing just the end of the cell (the cap) being chewed out, which indicates the emergence of a new queen. So when I saw these five queen cells still fully capped, half a dozen cells ripped open at their sides, and with a new queen wandering around, my curiosity was piqued.
Now, I’m a rather curious person. Whenever we hatch out chickens or quail I will always carry out an autopsy on the unhatched eggs. Yes, I walk them out to the middle of the paddock and carefully crack each one open to see what’s inside. Carefully. Because I don’t want them exploding if they are full of gas - I learned this the hard way very early on! Invariably the majority would just be unviable eggs (that rooster needs to work a little harder!), with the odd one still having a chick inside - some being not fully formed but always a case of ‘they just didn’t make it’. Sad, but some aspects of farming life just don’t go the way you want.
So this in mind, and me being curious, I removed each of the queen cells from their frame and gently tore it open to see what was inside. In every single cell there was a load of royal jelly (the food) but nothing else but empty space. No queen bee, no pupa, no larvae. No nothing. Fascinating!
Queen Bee knows best
The most likely conclusion I came to was that the new queen had no need to rip these cells down because she somehow knew that there was no queen inside. They were not a threat to her queendom. I’m guessing this had something to do with the lack of pheromones being emitted from the empty cells.
It leads to the next question though… Why did the bees build out the cells and cap them in the first place if there was nothing inside to develop? This is a question I may never know the answer to.
But if you have any ideas on why this may have occurred please get in touch. I’m all about education. Not only being the educator. But also being educated!
Helen Humphreys Passionate Beekeeper Trainer | Mentor | Producer