Oh, what a treat it was to do a hive inspection with my grandfather Dan and my mom Harriet! I’ve been inspecting my hives either on my own, or with other novices (like my cousin-apprentice Robert Snowden) in Brooklyn, and I always wonder if I am identifying cells and problems correctly. Not to mention wondering how much I miss.
Early in September, Mom and Dan and I drove over to visit our friend Dick and his apiary near the Sprague Grange Hall in Cape Elizabeth. Dick is fairly new to beekeeping (if you consider a dozen or more years new), and he tolerated the experts’ visit with patience.
Dick caught a swarm earlier in the summer and installed them down the way from these three hives. He didn’t think they had developed a queen and was concerned for the swarm’s survival, especially since fall was closing in. He had been taking brood-filled frames from his strong hives over to the newer one, so that bees would continue to be born in the new hive even though there wasn’t a queen laying eggs. I thought that was a pretty creative solution, but not sure if there are hidden problems in that method. Does anybody know?
So we took a brood-filled frame down to the swarm’s hive, opened it up, and we saw that there was evidence of plenty of queen cells, which meant that the worker bees had been attempting to make a queen.
All workers are females, but usually they don’t lay eggs — that’s the queen’s job.When a hive loses a queen, the workers want to make another so that the hive population does not die out. In these desperate situations a worker can turn into a laying worker to lay eggs to be turned into queens.
Any egg laid can be turned into a queen — it must be fed royal jelly, and royal jelly only, for its entire development period in the cell, and then for its whole life. Royal jelly, secreted from the worker bees’ glands, is like the silver spoon in a democratic society.
If multiple queen cells are developing simultaneously, the queen who emerges first sticks her stinger into the other queen cells, murdering her sister-wives. If two queens emerge at the same time, they fight to the death. That, my friends, is how a wily, queen-less hive copes and adapts to create a new queen.
It looked like some queens must have emerged from the queen cells in this swarm’s hive, and Mom took a quick look around and spotted a queen. She must have either killed the other queens in a battle, or by some other Darwinian feat ended up on top. It was lovely to see her — problem solved, for the time being.