If you're into beekeeping, it's critical to know what happens and what to do if/when a queen bee dies.
We outlined every reason why this could happen, and how to react if the mother bee goes under.
Not only that, we even covered what happens when you kill a queen bee (it ain't pretty).
Top 4 Reasons A Queen Bee Dies
In order to know what to do when a queen dies in your colony, you must first know what caused the queen to die. There are a few different reasons why the queen might have died. Here are the top reasons a queen bee can die.
This is probably the most common reason for a queen bee to die among new beekeepers. It's not a secret that due to the size of a honeybee, they can be easily smashed or harmed without much effort.
Honeybees are highly agitated when a beekeeper enters the hive, especially the brood chambers where the queen is located. They will use defensive mechanisms to protect the hive and queen. You can read more about bee stings here in a previous article why honeybees sting.
You should be sure to wear protective clothing when entering a honeybee hive, we answered this question in another previous post can bees sting through clothes. Hint, the answer is yes!
During hive inspections, especially in the warm season, beekeepers check on the hives regularly to make sure the hive is in good health.
This often requires beekeepers to inspect the brood chambers where the queen resides. It's important to practice extreme caution when inspecting brood frames because the queen could easily be crawling anywhere among the other worker bees.
If the frame is dropped or bumped accidentally, it could cause harm to the queen. Further when handling the brood frames, it's important to carefully hold the frame so that your hands are only touching the outer parts of the frame.
Make sure that you don't accidentally smash any bees when handling, inspecting, or replacing brood frames.
Disease is the most common cause for queen deaths. There are many pests and disease that can plague a honeybee colony.
Varroa Mites are the number one cause for honeybee hive colony collapse. You can read more about Varroa Mites and other honeybee pests in future articles coming soon.
Other pests include hive beetle, wax moth, foul brood.
These pests can cause disease in the honeybee colony. They also cause many other various issues that will cause the hive to struggle.
If you suspect your hive is being hindered due to one of these pests, it's imperative that you treat the underlying cause so that your hive will be successful.
Predators are another issue for honeybee colonies. Bears, skunks, snakes, and to a lesser extent raccoons, oppossums, and mountain lions can all be predators for honeybees.
If your honeybee hives are located in an area with bears, it is advised to add protection like electric fencing.
A little known fact is that most of these predators are more interested in eating the honeybee larvae than they are the honey. That's because the larvae provide a tender, juicy, high protein snack for these animals.
A predator will cause widespread damage to a honeybee colony, which would most likely kill or damage the queen in the process.
Queen honeybees average working lifespan is only 1-2 years, while a worker bees lifespan ranges from 15-30 days in the summer and up to 200 days in the winter.
When a queen is reaching the end of her working life, she will begin to weaken and lay less eggs. This is a sign to the colony that it may be time to raise a new queen.
What Do Do When The Queen Bee Dies
Depending on the age and strength of your colony, you should be able to make some quick decisions in the event of a queen bee death.
Strong and Healthy Hive
If the hive is relatively strong with a large number of eggs already laid in the brood frames with plenty of healthy worker bees to take care of raising new queens. There shouldn't be a problem for this colony to replace the queen as intended by nature.
Worker bees will immediately begin building queen cells around the already laid young eggs. These queen cells are fed royal jelly and new queen bees will emerge.
Young or Weak Hive
Sometimes, the queen dies at an unfortunate time when the colony is young, or when the egg production has either already slowed, or hasn't started up for the season.
A queen usually will not lay eggs in the colder winter months. A death to a queen at this period of time could be detrimental to the hive, because the warm months will require thousands of new bees in order to maintain the hive.
In this case, a new queen from another colony may need to be introduced into the queenless hive.
In this scenario, the easiest way to ensure your colony raises a new queen is to take a brood frame from another healthy colony. Pick a frame with lots of young eggs in it and place it into the hive that has lost the queen. The worker bees will immediately begin to feed the young eggs royal jelly in order to produce several queen cells.
If other frames of young brood are not available, you might be able to ask around at your local bee club, or from other beekeepers if they can help you by trading a brood frame with young eggs to achieve the same result.
If no frames of young eggs are able to be obtained, queens can be purchased from various queen raisers either online or locally.
These queens are often referred to as virgin queens, and come in a small wooden cage with an opening on one end. The opening is filled with a candy plug. The wooden cage is inserted into the hive and given time for the worker bees to become acclimated to their new queen.
Over a few days, the workers will begin eating the candy and eventually free the queen from the small cage.
She will then be accepted and mated, she will then lay eggs and begin to repopulate the hive.
The Hives Immediate Response
In the event of a weakening queen or dead queen, the nurse bees will begin feeding royal jelly to some of the young larvae which will cause them to become a queen.
Raising A New Queen
Raising your own queens is a tedious process but can be done with any backyard beekeeping business.
It involves taking healthy brood frames and a large amount of worker bees from an existing hive and placing them into a smaller hive with only 5 frames called a nuc.
Special queen chambers are then filled with a single egg using a special tool, and then royal jelly is placed into the chamber to coat and cover the tiny egg.
The champers are placed on a frame assembly much like a brood frame and placed into the nuc with the other worker bees.
They will tend to the queen chambers
Capturing the Crown
When the first new queen larvae pupates, she must kill the other queen larvae in order to establish dominance in her new colony.
As the only remaining queen bee, she will then become mated and begin producing eggs for the colony.
What Happens If You Kill A Queen Bee
If the queen dies there are the following options:
- The hive will raise their own new queen if there are new eggs already in the brood comb.
- The beekeeper can move young eggs from another hive into the queenless hive.
- The beekeeper can buy or source a new queen locally or online.
- The beekeeper can grow their own queen using another healthy hive.
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