Our flighty queen

Today has been rapturously lovely and sunny. When I arrived at the apiary there were already lots of eager beginner beekeepers being shown a few hives by Andy and Pat. Soon the apiary got busier and busier until it felt like maybe thirty or forty people were chattering away over tea. A lot of people I hadn’t met before and seemed to be mostly new beekeepers or people interested in getting bees.

So today Emma and I opened our hives up before a big audience of peering faces. Three weeks ago we split our hives, putting the old queen into a nuc and leaving two queen cells in the old hive. Today first we looked inside the old hive, which looked like this:

The blue pin at the top of the picture was marking a new sealed queen cell we found last week. There was no sign of it today, so perhaps the bees tore it down.

Then we spotted her, our new queen. She looked like her mother, long and dark, a black beauty. I had a queen marking cage in my pocket and Emma had a marking pen. A good start, but then I tried to catch her with the cage…here my inexperience clearly showed. This new queen was not conveniently methodically moving from cell to cell laying eggs, she was running like crazy across the frame. My hand could barely keep up with her and the frame was covered with hundreds of bees moving towards her. I chased her round and around that frame and a few times thought I’d got her in the cage before she slipped out again. I eventually managed to pin her in the cage along with what seemed like dozens of frantic workers but was probably only four or five.

< the type of queen marking cage I was using

Emma asked Andy if he could come and help us, as neither of us have done much queen marking. Andy got us to practice on a few drones first, he picked them up and we planted a blue dot on their thoraxes, which felt surprisingly firm. Then Emma marked the queen through the cage mesh.

Andy balancing the frame on his knee so Emma can mark the queen

So far so good. Of course next it all went horribly wrong.

Because once Andy lifted the cage up the queen took off. She flew onto another beekeepers’ suit, Andy grabbed her and put her back in the hive and she took off again, so fast. Off to who knows where. I think Andy was quite upset about this, but I don’t blame him at all, by the way she had been giving me the run about earlier it was obvious this one was too feisty to appreciate being imprisoned for long.

Andy said she might get lost, and he doesn’t hold out much hope, but as she is a new queen and her flight muscles will still be strong, there’s a chance she’ll come back. Alan (who helped me shook-swarm them back in March) came over later and reassured us “Don’t worry, she’ll be back” – apparently it’s happened to him twice and both times Queenie came back. But in case she gets lost or gobbled up by something bigger than her we’ve taken a frame with young larvae in over from the nuc and put it in the old hive. So if HM is gone for good they can make a queen cell or two.

It’s so frustrating how everything can be going really well until suddenly it really isn’t. It’s not looking too hopeful for my first ever jar of honey in three years. Oh well.

When I got home Drew had just made up some tapioca pearls. We first had these recently at a new Asian tea shop in Soho called Bubbleology.  They serve fruit or milky teas either ice cold or hot with these chewy tapioca ‘bubble’ balls in, which you suck up through a ball size straw. Drew managed to get hold of these balls on eBay and served them to me in some mango juice. After such an eventful day it felt good to sit back on the sofa chewing and sipping.

Anyone else have a queen marking disaster story to tell?

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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5 Responses to Our flighty queen

  1. karcuri13 says:

    I really need to make a trip out to England to sip some tea, eat some cake and watch the bees. It sounds like a Merchant-Ivory experience.


  2. Oh dear! It was a shame that Andy was disappointed about it – but really I don’t see what could have been done to prevent HRH from taking flight. I suspect she would have flown off even if we had put her on the floor of the hive. I have found quite a few similar experiences of runaway queens on BBKA forums!

    Our apiary a Merchant-Ivory experience eh? Mmm, I think maybe more an Edgar Wright production? ;o)


  3. pixilated2 says:

    This happened to me when I was setting up my hive. Luckily enough, she flew right back and landed on top of the frames where about ten workers immediately circled her! I was very fortunate. Lynda


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