Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Queen introduction

I got two new queen bees in the post a short time ago. They come in normal padded envelopes via Royal Mail. The postman was wondering why the envelope was buzzing!

Within the envelope each queen and her attendants is protected in a 'puzzle cage'. The cage has some candy to to keep the queen alive, and since the queen never feeds herself there are worker bee attendants to feed her and keep things calm during travel. If you look closely you can see the queen bee on the right, she has a green dot on her back showing she is the latest 2009 model.

To introduce a queen you can either use the puzzle cage they came in which has knock-out tabs enabling the bees to walk out one the candy is consumed, but I used a Butler cage. The Butler cage is a simple wire cage permanently blocked at one end, and which you seal at the other end using newspaper and elastic bands.

The knack is to take the queen out (let the attendants fly away) and put her into a separate cage. I did it on a sheet near a window since the queen may well fly off too, and at £20 each you don't want to loose her! The attendants will sting, but the queen doesn't sting you so you can pick her up by her thorax and pop her in.

After carefully putting the queen into the Butler cage and sealing it up it is ready to go into the hive. Opinions vary, but I take out the old queen about two days before introducing the new queen. The period of queenlessness makes the workers more inclined to accept the new smell. I kept the old queen in a jar with some attendants and candy in the case the introduction failed and I needed to back out of the procedure.

As you can see from the photo I have put a short nail in the cage's block so that I can push it into the comb. It is put in position so that the newspaper end of the cage is centred on the middle frame, right in a patch of brood where the workers would expect to find the queen.

The receiving colony's workers can feed and lick the queen through the cage, but if they try to attack they cannot ball her in there, and she can retreat into the newspaper end if they try to sting her. Over time the new queen pheromone permeates the colony and the workers will be ready to accept her.

The queen is eventually released by workers eating through the newspaper, and I gave two pin pricks on the end for them to get hold of with their mandibles.

Once the cage is in place another recommendation of Professor Ratnieks is to heavily smoke the colony. Not sure if that is a distraction technique or simply another way to mask the new incoming smell. I put in loads of smoke so that the bees were fanning furiously.

Then leave the colony alone for at least two days. After that time I checked to ensure the queen had been released, and removed the cage. The new queen was wandering over the comb without a care in the world, probably quite oblivious of her travels through the postal system a few days earlier.

I left them alone for another week, then looked again and there were eggs a plenty, so she was working away happily. Some people report as low as 50% success rate at introducing new queens. I only did these two, one into a colony that had been queenless for a while and the other where I removed an existing queen. Both worked for me so I'm happy with that.


varlax said...

Just curious, what happens to elder queen - you just let it fly off?
I always felt beekeeping is an enthralling work, and requiring a lot of patience. Thanks for interesting post!

tim said...

Hi Alexey,

Unless the old queen is needed for some other colony, they are usually killed.

Like I said, its a good idea to keep her alive for a while as insurance in case the new queen is not accepted.

A queen bee cannot survive alone as she needs others to feed and care for her.