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Beekeeper’s Notes: A Surprise In The Hive

Published on: 1 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 31 Mar, 2021

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon

The beekeeper’s season has well and truly started. The first hive inspections of the year are a bit nerve wracking. You don’t quite know what to expect and whatever you find is going to define the rest of your beekeeping year.

First inspection of the year looked good but there was a surprise.

How well did the hives survive the winter? Are the queens laying as they should? Any disease?

What I didn’t expect was to find a new queen in one of the hives just after the winter.

Last September, all of my queens were marked with a coloured spot on the thorax, just behind her head. Marking the queen makes it so much easier to spot her. Where’s Wally comes to mind when looking for the queen in a packed hive.

But in one hive, there was a surprise; an unmarked queen happily laying eggs. The bees sometimes just decide to get rid of a queen and replace her. She may be underperforming or injured. There are few if any drones about now to mate with, so she must have been superceded before the winter set in.

It is a risky strategy as drones are few and far between late in the year. But it worked and that hive now has a lovely new queen to start the year.

On a less happy note, the question of whether managed honey bees out-compete other pollinators continues (see also Beekeeper’s Notes: Too much urban beekeeping may be bad).

There is evidence in Scotland that worker bumblebees were significantly smaller when foraging alongside honey bees. A study in Sweden showed that other pollinators in a rich forage area were displaced when honey bees were introduced.

Is the answer then to reduce the number of honey bees to help wild pollinators? Possibly in some situations but in general, I suspect not.

Managed honey bee colonies are said to be in decline.  As are insects in general with horrifying estimates of up to 2.5% reduction in insects numbers each year. But fewer insects should mean they get a bigger share of the forage. The studies above would indicate that is not the case.

Is the answer then more likely to be habitat loss and therefore less food available for the insects? There should be plenty for all but it would appear not so.

Whatever the answer, it has made beekeepers think about what they are doing to the natural world. Beekeeping, once thought of as unquestionably a good thing, is now called into question.

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test One Response to Beekeeper’s Notes: A Surprise In The Hive

  1. Harry Eve Reply

    April 1, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    I think I know how the colony made their decision. The previous queen refused to recognise the constraints of the hive so her workers held an election and elected a responsible replacement.

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