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Beekeeper’s Notes: What To Do about A Disappearing Queen

Published on: 1 May, 2021
Updated on: 1 May, 2021

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon

It hasn’t been a good month for our bees. It’s not going to be a good honey year as we have lost another hive.

We had inspected it last week and it seemed ok. The queen was seen, she was laying and the colony was building up. All systems go. When we looked this week though, there were no signs of the queen and, crucially, no eggs to be seen and we are not sure why.

The colony is doomed without the queen and without any eggs, they can’t raise a new saviour queen.

So what to do?

It is always lovely to see a new bee born! We can see brood in all stages here; eggs, larvae, capped cells where the pupae develop and finally a new bee.

We could wait to see what will happen as there could be a queen present but unseen. We could also merge them with another hive to build up their numbers.

Because of the uncertainty, we have decided to test the queen’s presence by slipping in a frame with plenty of eggs from another hive. If there is no queen, the bees will grab the chance and develop one or more of the eggs into new queens. We shall know within the week if we see queen cells.

It does emphasise for me that beekeeping is not a mechanical exercise. There are so many factors that it is hard to always work out exactly what is happening. We think we know but the bees don’t read the beekeeping books. They may be the most studied of insects but their methods still remain a mystery.

A marked queen walks amongst her attendants.

In Amsterdam, an annual survey seems to be showing that the decline in urban pollinators has been halted there. About a quarter of the bees noted were the honey bee which has again raised the concern that the managed honey bee population could be out-competing the wild bees. They are crediting the success to bee hotels and improvements in the availability of food sources and habitats, such as the honey highway.

It highlights for me that we can turn around the decline in number of insects if we allow the insects to live with us. We have to give habitats for insects priority.

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