A tale of two queens

After a gloriously hot Friday, it was disappointing to be making my way to the apiary in rain on Saturday afternoon. Luckily the rain soon cleared and even turned to sunshine later, leaving Emma and I free to inspect our five hives.

A bee came to inspect our smoker, so Emma removed her before she got overheated.

Emma rescues a bee from the smoker

Emma rescues a bee from the smoker

Inside the hives all was well. The new queens have started laying in our two new unnamed colonies, formed from artificial swarms on Chilli and Chamomile’s hives on 10th May. This is good, but we still have a lot of decisions ahead as five hives are too much for us. We are likely to sell one or two later in the summer, or possibly combine colonies. After inspecting Myrtle’s hive too, and putting a super on top, we stopped for a tea break.

My cousin Joanna gave me some bucks fizz marmalade for our wedding, so I had brought along a marmalade cake to keep our energy levels up. It’s a bit nutty, a bit spicy and of course orangey.

Marmalade cake

After tea and cake Freddie and Emma inspected Chilli and Chamomile’s colonies. I was distracted by Jonesie’s hive as he had discovered gazillions of queen cells in there, all containing a larvae and unsealed. As the cells were all unsealed we expected the colony had not swarmed yet and went through looking for the queen. Four times we went through checking every frame, the bottom of the box and super too, in case she was slimmed down for swarming and had got through the queen excluder.

Considering she was marked and had been seen a week ago with her mark on, we came to the conclusion that she wasn’t in the hive. Although it is unusual for a colony to swarm before queen cells are sealed, perhaps the spectacular weather on Friday encouraged them to get going. Jonesie decided to take most of the queen cells down and leave a couple, to reduce the likelihood of further cast swarms from the already depleted colony.

Queen cells

Removing queen cells

Tom found a queen cell in his hive too. He has been noticing a lot of queen cells at the top and middle of frames this year, instead of at the bottom as queen cells often are. Has anyone else been experiencing this?

Queen cells

Here’s Jonesie holding up one of his foundationless frames. It’s interesting to see how the bees begin building. To produce wax, worker bees older than 10-12 days old eat nectar and hang in chains; this raises their body temperature and causes their eight wax glands on the underside of their abdomens to secrete tiny flakes of wax. They then chew the wax and manipulate it into the precise shapes of comb using their mandibles and forelegs.

Foundationless frame

After all the inspecting was done Tom and I stopped by at his hive in Hanwell on the way home. There I was lucky enough to see the rare sight of two queens in one hive.

Here’s mum…

Marked queen

And here’s her new blonder daughter. I’ve added little crowns to help you spot them 🙂

Double queens

Now you have to find them on your own…

Two queens 2

I’ve heard bee inspectors say two queens in a hive is commoner than most beekeepers think. Often beekeepers will be looking for one queen and stop looking for others once they see her. When superseding the old queen it makes sense for the colony to keep her around until her new daughter queen has got into the swing of laying.

A lovely end to a day of inspecting!

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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25 Responses to A tale of two queens

  1. thomas73640 says:

    Just lovely Emily so glad you managed to get them both in the shot and just to think I was going to requeening this hive and now that it has given us this wonderful sight I will be keeping this new queen. Thanks.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Just wish I’d had my proper camera with me so it was a sharper pic. Oh well at least it was about as good a photo as the iPhone can take, and we can see both of them. Will be interesting to see how long they keep mum around for.


  2. beenurse says:

    As usual a great post with beautiful pictures Emma! Very interesting that you can have two queens in one colony. I didn’t know that. And again a picture of a delicious cake.
    My husband and I are visiting England in September. If it is possible we would love to visit you apiary. Let me know what you think.


  3. I wonder how common it is to have 2 queens in a hive. Doesn’t mamma queen know what’s waiting for her after her daughter starts laying? If I were her I’d get going and take as many workers with me as I could before they ganged up on me and squished me. Mamma queen does not have a very rosy future.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Trouble is, I doubt any workers would follow her. Their allegiance is to the new young queen now. Beeland is tough! But at least her genes get to live on through her daughter.


  4. Amazing shots of mother and daughter! Makes me think of what might happen to Myrtle…


  5. Emily, it is likely that Jonesie’s hive lost their queen for some reason…squished, dropped, up and died, or some other mysterious fatality, and these queen cells are the result. If uncapped they are less than a week old, which makes me wonder whether something happened during the last inspection? Fun with queens, I know that game well! Glad to hear your new ladies are doing so well, and the marmalade cake…woot! You must post that recipe!


  6. meemsnyc says:

    In my own hives, we’ve seen Queen cells in the middle of frames or on the top.

    When we are Queenless, we try to let the hives create their own Queen. Sometimes this works well for us.


  7. JimB says:

    Great photos and a wonderful looking marmalade cake!

    With regard to Jonesie’s disappearing queen – I had the same happen in one of my hives recently. Approx 5 days after an inspection, poof, she up and vanished. She was clipped & marked, too. Am now waiting for her replacement to come into lay….troublesome!


    • Emily Heath says:

      Interesting… so your colony didn’t swarm? Wonder what happened to her.


      • JimB says:

        Well, it’s possible it tried to swarm and the clipped queen came out, crawled around and got lost. I’d be surprised if that was the case though as the colony only came into being a week previously (result of an AS). My best guess eould be that the queen was in some way affected or injured during the AS manipulations and she either died or was superceeded as a result…


  8. Tabitha says:

    What a nice experience! We ran a hive once with 2 queens, but there was an excluder between them. 😉 I’ve never seen 2 queens on the same frame before.


  9. pe says:

    Wonder what happened to her.


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