When And How To Replace A Queen Bee In A Bee Colony

Regular replacement of older queen bees with younger ones is mandatory if we want a strong bee colony for the production of larger quantities of honey. This is why professional beekeepers replace her each year, and those with fewer hives-every other year.

The queen bee is the generator of the bee colony. Her main function is the reproduction of the colony, but she also contributes to the harmonious and productive life and work of the bee colony as a biological whole. She secretes certain substances (pheromones) that influence worker bees and drones to act at certain periods for the benefit of the entire system in the hive.

The queen bee performs all her functions best while she is young. That is why in modern beekeeping, they are exchanged every year.

Only high-quality or selected queen bees, which are used for further production, can be changed every other year. Compared to the younger, the older have a number of negative traits, such as:

  • They lay a smaller number of fertilized eggs so they are not able to develop bee colonies to the necessary extent, so that the colonies are the strongest when it is most needed;
  • They lay a larger number of unfertilized eggs, so more drones are hatched than necessary;
  • Older queens have harder times to overwinter, so a larger number of bee colonies emerge from the winter without a queen;
  • When they are older, they do not secrete enough pheromones, and do not affect the harmonious life of the bee colony;
  • Colonies with the older queens are prone to swarming, so it happens that the urge to swarm and swarming itself appear at an unfavorable time.

Colonies Sometimes Make A Silent Replacement On Their Own

Although it is obvious that timely replacement is necessary, a large number of hobby beekeepers do not replace the queen bee in their hives for several years.

A queen bee can live up to seven years, but if nor replaced in any way, that colony will produce all the smaller quantities of honey. When the colony swarms, the old queen bee leaves with the swarm, and in the original base colony, when they feel that she is not capable of performing her functions normally, they perform the so-called silent replacement on their own.

Interesting facts from the life of the queen bee The ruthless and vulnerable mother of all bees

The Mother And Daughter Queen Bee Lay Eggs At The Same Time

In this case the worker bees build several bases for the queen cells into which the queen lays her eggs. As the bee colony does not build enough queen cells during the silent replacement, usually three to five cells, the worker bees are able to successfully nourish and feed the brood of the queen cells, so very high-quality queen bees are produced.

It is interesting that in this method of performance, if there are richer pastures, the mother and daughter queen remain together in the bee colony and regularly both lay eggs, but only while the richer grazing lasts. As soon as the grazing begins to decrease, the mother queen bee is destroyed, and the young queen bee prolongs her life and work in the colony.

A Queen Bee Can Calm “Angry” Bees

The intensity of stinging of worker bees in the bee colony depends almost exclusively on the queen bee. If she is removed from the fiercest bee colony and another is added to it from a colony that was calm and not aggressive to sting, that angry colony will soon become calm even before the worker bees are replaced by hatching  of the young worker bees and queens from the calm colony.

If the queen bee is of a good quality and selected for calmness, large production of bee products, resistance to diseases and pests, quality offspring are produced which develop quickly and produce a large amount of honey.

How To Perform Replacement During Swarm Formation?

There are several ways it can be added to bee colonies in smaller apiaries. From the hive in which the queen is being replaced, two frames of a mature emerging brood and two frames of honey and perga are taken out of one extension, all with bees and thus practically forming a swarm.

The swarm is placed over an improvised basement under the roof of the same hive. On that occasion, the swarm is placed on the opposite side from the entrance of the hive so that the old field bees return to the basic colony, while the young bees will remain in the swarm. The young queen bee in the cage is then added to the swarm, but instead of a plug on the cage, a little sugar dough or a strip of a screened bottom board is put, and a hole with a diameter of two millimeters is drilled. In this way the bees will release the queen bee very quickly and she will start laying.

After a week, the old queen bee is removed from the basic colony, and the swarm is connected to the basic colony via finely drilled newspaper. After three to four days, the scraps of paper are removed and a new brood is checked, and the frames are repackaged as needed.

How To Estimate The Age Of A Queen Bee!

The age of the queen cannot be determined quite precisely only visually and can never be 100% accurate because the color and appearance of the queen bee depend on several factors, but the most important are the color, i.e. the type of her mother and drones. As most beekeepers know that one queen bee in nature mates with at least a dozen or more drones and if we know this, we can easily assume that during such trips, the queen bee can be fertilized with two or three species of bees.

Queen bee producers encounter this problem quite often because in our area such pairing is almost inevitable, even if it is in small percentages. Why am I telling you this? It is because of the simple reason to let you know that even when the young queen bees that are just being hatched, there is a difference in color, sometimes very small in pigmentation, and sometimes quite noticeable starting from dark to lighter shades of brown, and that is due to the fact that not all queens that are from the same mother queen bee, are the same, because fertilization is performed by the semen from several drones, and therefore there is a difference, so the simple visual observation of the queen bee can be used for this purpose, but it is not 100% accurate, especially if the assessment is based on the color only.

How to estimate the age of a queen bee!

The Brood Of A Good Queen Bee

Older queen bees have less hair on the body and therefore look more worn, that is brighter and darker.

However, what is most important regarding a queen bee and has nothing to do with her age, is “WHAT SHE DOES”, and that is laying the brood.If the queen bee has a compact, complete brood, evenly spaces and with as few empty cells as possible, concentrated in circles, then this is a good feature of a good queen bee, the queen that is at full capacity, and no body color plays a role.

I personally had queen bees that were four years old and I didn’t replace them as long as they were laying and working properly, although many advise replacing them every year, I just have my own logic and that is: “Why should I change something that I am satisfied with”, and that just because someone wrote or said somewhere that the young queen bees are the best.

I was disappointed several times with the young queen bees and regretted the older ones I took out of the hive only because of their age, until I changed the way I think. There is a great risk with every replacement of the queen, no matter how confident we are in what we do, and I repeat, there is always even the slightest risk that the added queen bee is not accepted by the bees no matter what you do, and then instead of a good queen bee that we replaced which was two or three years old, we now have a chaos and panic in the colony, and it can often happen, if we do not examine the colony timely, that false queen bees, i.e. drone bees, appear in that colony, and then we either lose such a colony, or we have big problems and costs until we put it in order again!

The Appearance Of The Hive, I.E. The Strength Of The Colony Of The Good Queen Bee

A good number of beekeepers, in order to be able to estimate the age of the queen bee, resort to painting it or gluing numbers or opal tiles on the queen bees, and thus help themselves to make mistakes because they take the queen bees out of the hives only because of their color and not because how the queen bee works.

If we compare the work of a queen bee with humans, we will all agree that young people can do better and more than older ones, BUT there are many examples that it is actually the opposite, that older workers work far better than younger ones without any special problems, even though the exclusive rule should be that the younger ones are better, but they are not, unfortunately.

It is the same with queen bees, if the queen bee works well, leave her be that season, until the end of the season or until next season, and do not exchange her simply because she turned two to three years old, because there is not much logic there, even though beekeeper authors advise us to change queen bees every year due to “allegedly” higher yields!

However, few of them will mention how much it all costs and what happens when one part of the replaced queen bees is not accepted, what are the costs then? Everybody mentions the good sides of it, and few talk about the risk that is ALWAYS present in such replacement.

Fellow beekeepers, good luck in replacing queen bees and think carefully before such operation, do not do things out of habit, or because someone advises you to do it, but only when you see that the queen bee has given up in her activities, and even then do it in great detail, precisely, and most importantly “carefully” because you can very easily do more harm than good.

When you look at the two pictures above, if you have such colonies, you absolutely do not have to look for a queen bee or check her age, the deeds speak louder than any words… 

I am a beekeeper. I have spent hours reading literature about bees, their features, their hard work and the valuable role they play in nature and the people. I want to familiarize the people all around the globe with the beautiful world of bees. I also wish to help raise awareness about these small creatures that help us in saving our planet.

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