Bee Drama! A Queen Flies the Coop!


Bee drama!

Last week I reported that my first hive of bees either had a missing queen or a queen that was only laying drones.  When I discovered the problem, I immediately ordered another package of bees and a new queen to boost the dwindling population of the first colony so they could take advantage of the summer nectar season here on the island.

That new package of bees arrived on Thursday and there was supposed to be an extra queen in the package for another beekeeper on the island, but when I went to hive the gals, I only saw one queen cage attached to the top.

This package had a lot of bees inside.  They seemed more active than my first package.  I removed the queen cage carefully, and wired her on top of one of the frames in the hive.  My plan was to install these bees in a different hive than the first and wait another week to make sure that my old hive didn’t have a queen inside.  If it did, there would be fighting…and bee drama!  I might have been stuck with the drone-laying queen and be right back where I started.

So, instead of shaking out the bees in the package, I followed the same technique I used for the first package of bees.  When it’s raining outside, it works well to just stack an extra super on top of the bottom one and lay the whole package of bees on the side, so they can crawl out at their leisure.  If you leave them inside this way, usually the next day you can return and they’ve exited the package and gone down into the lower frames.

This is NOT what I saw when I went back the next day to check on this hive.  My poor queen was hanging solo with hardly any workers paying attention to her…AND, the bees (most of them anyway) were still in the package box.

I was considering whether to go ahead and release the queen at that point, but thought better to get the bees out of the package.  I picked it up, spritzed them with sugar water and shook them down onto the frames in the lower super.  They came out in a clump and seemed unwilling to disperse.

Curiosity made me poke my finger into that clump of bees.  Brushing a few away, I saw a glint of metal.  NO!  It was the other queen.  The queen cage had not been attached to the top and was actually in this package when I thought she’d been left out.

Thinking that this was not good, I took the first queen in her cage and set her a good, safe distance away.  I was able to retrieve the other queen cage, albeit with some difficulty.  The workers were mobbed around her.  Obviously, this was the preferred queen, so I decided to release HER into the hive.

If you are a new beekeeper, here is MY advice!  Get queens that have been clipped and marked.  I know it may not be the best thing for the queen, but given what has happened to me, I think it the safest route starting out.

So, this queen wasn’t marked…or clipped.  Guess what else?  She was agitated.  She’d been in that package smelling the other queen, and then in the hive overnight with pheromones wafting over that sent the message that a fight to the death was inevitable.  If there are two queens in a colony, one of them is doomed.

Even though this queen obviously was the one the workers wanted, the other queen’s presence was enough to send her flying off into the overcast, cloudy sky as soon as I popped out the cork on her cage.  As of right now, I have no idea where she went or IF she came back.  All I know is that I saw her go airborne.  NOT GOOD!

That was the first part of a frustrating morning.  I decided at that point, that this extra queen (that was supposed to go to another beekeeper) was going instead into my defunct colony with the drone issue.  However, I wasn’t turning her loose.  The bees in that colony needed to get used to her, so I wired her into that hive over one of the frames.  I also shook out a few of the bees that were still in the package into this hive, to boost that colony’s population a bit.

This morning, I went to check both hives.  I started with the old hive where I’d wired the queen the day before.  She had workers all over her cage, but I wasn’t sure if they were agitated by her presence (not good) or if they were trying to feed her (good).

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Queen cage wired to frame

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Workers unwilling to disperse from queen cage.

I didn’t feel comfortable releasing her, so instead I removed the cork and popped a marshmallow in the space.  The workers will eat through the candy and let her out on their own.  Hopefully by the time they release her, she will be welcome.  If not, I have bigger problems than I bargained for.

Moving now to the new hive, I noticed that these bees seemed really agitated.  This could be from the loss of the queen if she didn’t return.  I lifted the cover and saw the workers were mobbed over something on the inner cover, so maybe she is in the hive.   I tried brushing them away with my finger, but didn’t see evidence of the queen.

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Second hive…inner cover with ball of bees

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Not sure if maybe the queen was under here or not. I never saw her.

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Worker bees chaining alongside feeder

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Feeder inside hive

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Worker bee lapping up sugar water

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Worker bees lapping sugar water

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Worker bees lapping sugar water after spritzing

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Worker bee from the first hive carrying out dead bee

I’ll give them a few days and go back to see if there is evidence of eggs.  If not, then I plan to try and combine the second hive with the first one, or I could order another queen for the second hive.  Either way, the experience has been invaluable, but I’m uneasy about the setback.  With such a short season here, I worry about coming out with a viable colony after summer.

Oh…I almost forgot…Guess what I found inside the first hive after I dumped out the bees from the package that were left inside?  A ROACH!!!!  This is the first really gross insect I have seen in my three years on San Juan Island.  I bet it came in the package.   Thank God it was dead.

Check back soon…to “bee-continued!”

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About "BUGGING" YOU FROM FRIDAY HARBOR!

I love beetles and keep bees! In my free time, I enjoy photography (mostly bugs) and documenting insect species found on San Juan Island. I have limited availability for local, onsite beekeeping consultation and hive inspection, honey bee removal/swarm collection as well as phone/skype consultation. Contact me at cyndibrast@me.com Member Washington State Beekeepers Association
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