26 July 2013

Drone layers and queen cells

We all hope that a new queen will mate successfully, but it doesn't always work out that way. Bees do work to a timetable, once the colony has got going, but a new queen will sometimes bide her time before starting to lay. It might be nice to see if a new queen is laying, and to be able to see eggs, but a too early check can be disruptive for the colony - and there's always that risk of crushing the queen.

Two of my colonies should have had actively laying queens by, at the latest, 5th - 8th July. The latest time the first eggs would be capped would be 15th July, so there wasn't any real need to open up before then.When I inspected I was disappointed to find that both colonies had drone laying queens.

Nucleus headed by poorly mated queen
I wasn't really surprised that the little queen that was found in the bee shed hadn't mated well, but it was disappointing all the same.

This is what I saw:

The signs of a drone laying queen are clear -  there's a good laying pattern, but there are only sealed drone cells.

I could have found and despatched the queen there and then, but decided not to - to see what the colony would do. Even a poorly mated queen is likely to have some fertilised eggs, so the colony might be able to rescue itself by requeening.

Failed supersedure mating
This is a more mature colony with a supersedure queen. She is laying more drone than worker eggs and the laying pattern is patchy, suggesting that some of her eggs have been removed because they were completely unviable. (I have checked carefully for signs of foulbrood.)

It was still very early days for this new queen, but the colony had already decided to replace her and have used a worker egg (or young larva) to make a single queen cell in the centre of a frame where it is offered the best protection possible. It doesn't look anything fancy, but this queen should, if they're lucky, replace the poor one
Extended drone cell
This colony has also done something rather unusual.

Some of the workers have, it appears, tried to make a queen from a drone larva. I'm assuming it will be capped at the normal time for a drone, and will hatch a drone - it cannot make a queen!

A week later - update
I was very surprised to see that the nucleus queen had obviously managed to mate, although with maybe only one drone, because there was a smattering of sealed worker brood in amongst the drone cells. The bees have used three of these to create queen cells. I have little to lose by letting them continue, so have left them to their own devices.


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