Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Queen at a Time

Queen mating nucleus hives reveal the workings of honey bee colonies on a small scale. These are the small bee hives where beekeepers raise queen bees. Mating nucleus hives are usually established by taking worker bees and brood from strong colonies and placing them in a box that holds less than the normal 10 frames. After remaining queen-less for about 24 hours, the bees in the nucleus hive develop a strong desire for a queen. When the beekeeper introduces a queen cell that holds a queen pupa almost ready to emerge into this queen-less hive, the bees readily accept it. The beekeeper counts the number of days that the queen develops in the queen cell and moves it to the mating nucleus hive one day before the queen emerges as an adult. Queen bees require 16 days to develop from egg to adult, and most colonies will accept any queen that emerges inside the hive.

Once the queen bee emerges, she begins searching for other queens in the hive. There may be other queens developing in the hive, and queen bees simply don’t allow competing queens to live in their hive. The first queen to emerge starts piping. Piping involves making a series of chirping and quacking sounds to call out to any other developing queens. Queen bees, still held in their own queen cells, respond to the piping. The emerged queen kills each of these potential competitors with her sting. In the photo, workers remove the dead queens from a pair of queen cells. They were killed by the first queen to emerge. If a queen successfully emerges from her cell, there will be a smooth, circular opening at the bottom; if the queen is killed inside its cell, a larger hole will be chewed in the side wall of the queen cell. After removing the dead queens, the workers chew down the queen cells. Without competition, a new colony is organized around the queen’s pheromones.

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