What are you up to, moon man? Part II

bee frames

In this post I continue what I started in my previous post: a List for Basic Beehive Examination. Previously, I have shown you what those funny looking beekeepers look at when they inspect hives from the outside. Now it’s time to take off the lid and investigate some suspicions by exploring the hive from the inside. Amongst others, I will show you how you can uncover one of the big beekeepers’ concerns: a failing queen.

The Beehive from the Inside.

Beehives maintained by humans often consist of a few wooden boxes stacked on top of each other. When you examine a beehive, you are mostly interested in looking at the bottom box: the brood box. This is the box where the queen lives and where she lays her eggs. This box is full of activity, food sources and different stages of bee-life.

Most boxes will contain about 9 frames that consist of sheets of wax cells. The bees store pollen, nectar and honey in these cells, as well as eggs and larvae. When you go and look at frames it is important to keep the following in mind: the more central the frame is located in the box, the warmer it is – many bee bodies form insulating layers. Bees love warmth and warm conditions are especially important for the babies. It is likely that the queen will choose warm central locations to lay her eggs.


1.)    Look for the queen. The first thing you want to know is if the queen is still around. When you look for the queen you will usually just start at frame 1 and make your way through the box in sequent order (in theory she could be anywhere), but you have the most chance in the middle frames. Even if you can’t directly find the queen, in these middle frames lies the answer if she has been around or not: if there are eggs, it means that the queen has been around in the last three days (each egg hatches after three days!).

How to recognize a queen? She is a bit bigger than other bees. Her wings are short in comparison to her body, and she moves differently. When you take a frame out of the box you will find that she crawls around, looking for a dark spot. The queen lives her life mostly in the dark…Adult_queen_bee

2.)    Look for the brood. The brood consists of different stages in bee-development: from eggs to larvae to pupae. All these stages live inside cells: eggs and larvae are directly exposed to the human eye; pupae are protected with a wax-layer (a capping). You should look if all these stages are present in the hive and you should look at how they are dispersed over the frames. This is an indication for queen-quality. Does the queen have a nice and even laying pattern? Or are the frames a bit chaotically organised with all sort of things happening in the same area? (egg cells directly next to food storage instead of next to more egg cells)


3.)    Look for food sources.  Look at where the bees have stored nectar, pollen and honey. Nectar looks like a transparent runny liquid; pollen comes crumbly in different colours (from light yellow to dark orange and brown), and honey is the stuff that has a wax capping over it (often yellowish, and different in texture from pupae-cappings). Again, look at how the food sources are dispersed over the frames. Not only can dispersal be an indicator for queen quality, but also for worker-bee quality. Food and brood chaotically amongst each other can be a sign of lazy workers!

4.)    Look at different types of bees. Besides the brood and the queen, there are two other types of bees to look out for: the female workers and the male drones. Males are bigger than females. They all crawl over the cells, and occasionally stick their heads inside cells for feeding. Ideally, you don’t want too may drones in your hive because they don’t do any work. Their only function is to mate with the queen!

5.)    Look at cell structures. You will notice that some cells are bigger than others, and other cells can even form big bulky clusters. These are indications for different events.

Big cells, mostly on the edges of the frames, are drone cells. When there is too many off them, some beekeepers decide to scrape these cells away to prevent more drones from emerging. A drone emerges from an unfertilized egg laid by the queen. A queen laying too many of these eggs is not the best queen and might be a reason for dissatisfaction inside the hive.

Bulky cell clusters are queen-raising responses. They can be there for three different reasons:

-They are swarm cells. The bees are not happy inside the hive and they want to escape. This might be because they are not happy with their queen and want to escape from her, or because their queen is not happy with their situation or location and tells them they should all escape together to find a new home.

-They are supersedure cells. This is a definite indication that the queen is failing. The bees are not happy with their queen and build a queen cell – which is exactly that big bulky cluster. Any egg layed in a queen cell will become a queen (due to a special diet of royal jelly that the workers feed it). Once the new queen emerges she will battle the old queen. Ninety per cent of the time the vigorous new queen will win.

-They are emergency cells. An emergency has happened: the queen got lost or has died. The bees quickly need to respond to replace her.


Please let me know if you have any questions!


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