Queen Cell Floating In Royal Jelly
Queen Cell With Larva Floating In Royal Jelly

It’s that time of year. The swarming season. It starts when the first dandelion bursts into flower and lasts until the summer solstice is over, just over a month from now. So why do bees swarm ?

A swarm of bees is simply the reproduction mechanism of bee colonies: one colony splits into two. There’s a bit of commotion around the hive as the old queen bee leaves with a retinue of forager bees and a large haul of honey, which is needed to supply the energy for the bees to build the wax for their comb at their new des res. The other half of the hive stays put, waiting for one or more virgin queens to hatch, fight to the death for supremacy, get mated and start to repopulate the colony. A real-life “Game Of Thrones”…

Swarm On A Bough
Swarm On A Bough

To avoid this happening, we scrutinize the wax comb on the frames for queen cells. These cells point downwards, rather than outwards, as all the worker and drone cells do.  When built, it looks rather like a peanut shell, but there are 3 distinct sorts of QC: swarm, supercedure and emergency.

Swarm cells will mostly be found on the bottom of a frame, with several side by side:

Swarm Cells
A Brace Of Swarm Cells

Supercedure cells are single cells, often found in the middle of the frame:

A Single Supercedure Cell
A Single Supercedure Cell

And emergency cells are stubby cells, hurriedly cobbled together when a queen bee has unexpectedly died or been killed:

A Cluster Of Emergency Cells
A Cluster Of Emergency Cells

The other key factor is what is inside these cells. If it is an egg on its own, that is a warning sign that the bees may be preparing to swarm. But if there is a curved white larva, afloat on a sea of milky royal jelly, then it is a sure sign that the bees are about to swarm. Before that queen cell is sealed, after 8 days, the old queen and the flying bees will have swarmed. 

A Charged Queen Cell
A Charged Queen Cell

Fortunately, if we spot these queen cells charged with royal jelly, we have several management options to prevent the bees from swarming. What sort of beekeeper would you call yourself if you could not “keep” your bees, instead allowing them to swarm away?

An Airbnbeekeeper, I’d suggest.

4 Replies to “Airbnbeekeeping”

  1. Dear Dale , I have just got back from Montdragon, near Albi in France visiting my daughter and granddaughters, many beekepers in the area, selling local honey in Albi market . Spring flower honey was on sale last week, fragrant and delicious ! I took photos of a Californian lilac in the garden abuzz with hundreds of honeybees their pollen sacs full, at seven in the morning . I hope to send you the photo as soon as I work out how to do it!
    Best regards

    1. Hi Joanna,

      I know Albi and its market well!

      Your comments may inflame envy amongst office-locked journeymen, such as myself. Tant pis!

      Looking forward to the California lilac picture, once technical issues have been resolved…

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