She is the living motor that keeps everyone together; she is the only one that drives her family towards a successful existence. She is the one and only breeding Mother. She is the Queen Bee. Yet some are not afraid to kill her…
Bees are loyal to their queen. They know how important she is, and they know she isn’t easily replaceable. This is is why it can be quite tricky for beekeepers to introduce a new queen to a hive to replace the old one. You can’t just randomly drop a queen in and expect everything to be alright. If you do this – you will quickly find out why. The bees will mercilessly slaughter her. Yet when the old queen is failing or has gone missing (!) it is an absolute must to replace her as soon as possible. No Queen, No Hive.
So, how to overcome queen murder? How to get a queen accepted in an existing beehive? I know a few tricks.
The first one is a quirky yet simple method that only works for virgin queens. Take off the lid and mat of the hive (the two top layers). Spray a few dashes of air freshener into the hive. Be quick. You will overwhelm the bees with this scented cloud, and this is your occasion to let the queen walk in. The perfume masks their regular smells that influences their behaviour and moods (the pheromones that the queen communicates). The bees are unable to recognise any new intruding pheromones. Meanwhile, the queen has the time to happily walk about and get to know her new home and family. After a while the vapour vanishes. The bees can smell her now, but their memory is confused. Sniff sniff, hmm… I guess she was here before. And they live on. Mission completed.
It’s another story for the mated queen (a queen that has had sex with drones). If you want to introduce her, she and a few workers need to be isolated in a little cage. The queen always needs company. She is so royal; she can’t even look after herself – she needs to be fed and looked after by her workers. Make sure one entrance in the cage is blocked with bee candy. This is a mix of honey, icing sugar and water. The worker bees feed the candy to the queen during the time they spend stuck in a cage. Then, its time to introduce the cage into the hive. The queen’s pheromones aren’t masked this time and her smell will make the bees inside the hive aggressive. They will try to attack her. All in vain, as she is safely locked inside her cage. This situation can’t last. The trick for the beekeeper is to open the door of the cage behind the candy. This makes the candy the one and only barrier between the queen and the angry bees. Despite their anger, the angry bees can’t resist the delicious sweetness of the candy. They start munching, just as the queen with her attendants are munching on the other side. Slowly, they are working their way towards each other. You expect the worst when the candy is gone. However, during this munching-process the bees are getting used to the smell of the queen: her smell has slowly but surely spread throughout the hive. They don’t mind her anymore. When the barrier is gone, they decide she is OK and she can stay. Mission completed.
Queen cell cups
There is a third way of introducing a queen into a hive. It could be argued that this is the most natural way of them all. Introduce a queen cell into the centre of the brood chamber and let her emerge from it. There is a disadvantage of this method. After hatching, the queen still needs to mate and mature which can take up to 2-3 weeks. Only then she can start breeding and be of any use to the colony. This is a significant delay compared to the other methods where the queen is pretty much ready to go. Meanwhile the hive needs a breeding mother. If you already had a queen in the hive, its no big deal. You can choose to keep her until the new queen is old enough to fight her. And they will fight. It is a vicious battle. The new queen is young and vigorous, full with the lust of a new life of ruling and breeding: she is likely to beat the old queen. Nine times out of ten she comes as the glorious winner out of this battle.
A Final Curiosity: Many years of research, investigation and true passion have enabled these methods. Ironically, it used to be a true gentleman’s club whose members pondered upon queen issues; a club in which females didn’t have a say. After establishing the first theories, the gentlemen spent long, long years perfecting their ideas. Their knowledge was bound to be found out and, yes, it was quickly picked up by women. I think this history is something worth giggling about; how could these men think it was sensible to exclude females for studying a world inherently dominated by queens?
An example of a respectable depiction of a gentleman’s club (not bee-specific) – painted by Marike Bok
Photo’s: Creative Commons, Wikipedia