HRH The Queen
HRH THE QUEEN
The queen regulates hive behaviour and produces eggs to maintain the colony’s population. She can live for a year or more, whereas the worker bees have life spans as short as five weeks, for they are, well, busy bees, constructing combs, feeding and caring for the brood and queen, cleaning and guarding the hive, regulating nest temperature, foraging for nectar, pollen and water.
Bee sex is simultaneously a delicate and violent act. Drone bees mate with the queen bee in mid-flight, and once the semen is deposited, the drones are eviscerated and die shortly after, their one purpose in life complete. The queen bee, after mating with up to 20 drone bees, goes back to her hive and spends the rest of her days laying eggs and fertilizing them with the sperm stored from that one amorous flight. The weather conditions have to be just right for mating to happen: sunny, little wind, temperatures between 20 degrees Centigrade and 40 degrees centigrade.
Buying queen bees
The queen bee is essential for the proper functioning of a bee colony.
Re-queening hives on a regular basis, every one or two years, is a popular and positive method of maintaining a uniformly high productive level in the apiary while keeping potential problems to a minimum.
Why queens should be replaced
Queens are able to live for several years but their commercially productive life is only one to two years. Their ability to lay large numbers of worker eggs diminishes with age and the colony will not be as productive.
If colonies are left to their own means, a large percentage will decline from the standards listed below. This will occur over a relatively short period of time, from 6 to 18 months.
A queen bee should be replaced if:
- The bees in a hive are very aggressive
- The colony is not performing as well as other hives in the apiary, and disease has been ruled out as a cause. In this case, replacing the queen should rectify the problem.
Swarming is an inherent tendency as well as an environmental and seasonal problem. Young queens are less likely to swarm than older queens.
How to choose replacement queens
Queens vary in their genetics, and these variations are expressed through their worker progeny. Queen bees are bred for their offspring's:
- foraging – nectar gathering potential;
- docility and temperament;
- superb comb builders;
- clean/excellent housekeepers, & hence less prone to disease;
- use little propolis;
- disease resistance;
- reduced swarming tendency; and
- specific colour – a characteristic that is an expression of the beekeeper’s personal preferences rather than an economic consideration.
The selection of queen bees is one of the main ways that beekeepers can achieve their stock breeding aims.
Obtaining new queens
New queens can be obtained by breeding them yourself, or from commercial suppliers. Rearing queen bees is a specialist job as it takes a significant level of experience and resources to produce good quality mated queens. However, rearing your own queen bees can be a lot of fun and can add an extra interest to your beekeeping.
Buying queen bees
The demand for queen bees at certain times of the year may be high, and most breeders of quality Queens are likely to be heavily booked. It is necessary, if ordering any quantity, to do so a number of months before they are required.
When to buy new queens
Although queens are available from September each year it is advisable not to buy new queens until October, then any time through to early autumn.
Queen bees are not usually available during late autumn or winter, primarily due to low drone numbers, low temperatures, and poor nutrition in the form of nectar and pollen.
Types of queens
Queen bees are occasionally advertised as ‘untested queens. This indicates a normal production queen, and these account for most of the queen bees sold. The queen will be mated and ready to begin laying in its new colony.
Breeder queens and instrumentally inseminated queens are sometimes available, but these are too expensive for production hives. They are primarily sold to those beekeepers who wish to rear their own queen bees. Offspring of these queens should exhibit a uniform type of bee.
Costs vary to some degree however a well-bred Queen costs approximately $50.00 for small numbers of Queens with discounts for larger quantities.
Care of the mailing cage
Queen bees, if bought from a queen bee supplier, will come by post with the rest of the mail. They usually arrive in good condition, Australia Post regularly handles queen bees posted around the country and overseas.
Make sure your letterbox is cool and ant-free or, better still, wait for the postman to arrive.
If the queen is not being introduced straightaway, store the mailing cage with the queen inside in a cool area of the house away from pest strips, fly sprays, mothballs, direct sunlight, cold draughts and ants. In hot weather place one drop only of water on top of the wire gauze of the cage when the queen arrives in the mail. The queen will keep like this for some days.
Along with the queen, the mailing cage will contain a number of worker bees, known as ‘attendants’ or escorts. In one end of the cage will be a plug of queen candy, composed of irradiated honey and icing sugar.
Removing the old queen
It is vital to remove the old queen from the colony which is being re-queened. Failure to find and remove the old queen will probably result in the failure of the newly introduced queen
Slow transition to the new queen
When introducing the queen into the colony from the mailing cage, do not remove the cork in the end that the bees occupy.
Remove any cork or closure in the end with the queen candy. Place the mailing cage between frames of brood in the middle of the brood nest with the candy end slightly upwards, so that if an escort worker bee dies, this will not block the exit of the cage.
It may take a few days for bees in the hive to remove the plug of candy and release the queen. This time lapse allows the hive population to become accustomed to the new queen’s presence.
It may take up to a week for the introduced queen to begin laying eggs. For this reason, once you have introduced a mailing cage to a colony, it is essential to leave the colony alone for at least a week before you inspect its progress. The presence of eggs will indicate a successful introduction.