Earlier this year I attended a talk at Kew Gardens by Professor Ratnieks, Professor of Apiculture at the University of Surrey (blog post – Bee foraging on garden plants: Sussex University research). This got me interested in his work, and while reading about his research on the University of Sussex website I discovered this information:
“One of the common procedures carried out by beekeepers is queen introduction: a queen is taken from one colony and introduced into another. Queen introduction is needed when dividing hives, to replace a failing or poor quality queen, and sometimes in queen rearing when virgin queens are introduced into queen mating hives. The most common method used is the introduction cage. A queen is placed in a wire mesh cage that is then placed into a queenless colony. After a few days the queen is released. The success rate of this method is acceptable but is not 100 per cent.
LASI research has shown that there is a much better method for introducing queens that is both quicker and gives higher acceptance rates, even 100 per cent. A queen can be directly introduced, that is without a cage, into a hive that has been queenless for several days if the receiving hive is smoked heavily. Why is this better method not more used, especially as it is mentioned in some beekeeping books? The probable reason is that beekeepers accept the losses associated with the cage method. It also seems to make sense as the cage should protect the queen and allow her to acquire colony odour before release.”
Whilst reading Gretchen Bee Ranch, a great beekeeping blog I follow by Thiên and Mark, (a husband and wife team who do commercial beekeeping in Texas), I noticed that Mark was carrying out queen introductions, and left a comment linking to Professor Ratniek’s suggestion. I then forgot all about it.
Until a while later I received a lovely email, here’s an extract from it which I hope Mark doesn’t mind me sharing:
“I want to thank you for sending me the information about direct introduction of queens. I have tried it about 8 or 10 times and it was successful all but once. The one instance of failure was because I missed a second queen that was in the hive. I emailed Dr. Francis Ratnieks, the professor who participated in this research on this at the University of Sussex (Laboratory of Apiculture and Insects) to ask for more details and for a citation to any published research on this method of queen introduction. He kindly provided both. I was leaving the hive queenless for two days, but he recommended a longer period – 3 to 7 days. He also clarified some other points that I will implement.
I am excited to learn about this new, time-saving method for queen introduction. It will definitely save time and resources compared to the traditional method, which I have used for many years. I plan to keep a journal of my next 20 or so queen introductions using this new method and we will post the results. I will also share this with my colleagues and with my students in beekeeping class.”
It makes me very happy that the method works. Especially as one of our hives may be queenless at the moment and it would be very convenient to transport a queen over to it and add her in without having to go back a couple of days later to release her.
An abstract for Professor Ratniek’s research can be found here (the full paper costs £5 to purchase): Direct introduction of mated and virgin queens using smoke: a method that gives almost 100% acceptance when hives have been queenless for 2 days or more.
Here are photos on Mark and Thiên’s blog of Mark carrying out the cageless queen introduction method: Cageless Queen Introduction – A new approach. I recommend following their blog for photos of the beautiful wild flowers of Texas and an insight into the world of commercial beekeeping. They make lots of pretty candles and other beeswax products which they sell at local markets and also via their website store.