Out of curiosity I suppose, Steve asked how often you can split a beehive in one year. In other words, if you start with one beehive, what is the maximum amount of queen-right beehives that you can have by the end of the year? I answered that I didn’t know, as I’ve never tried it before and there are so many variables to consider. But it did leave me wondering how many hives a person could make if their only goal was to make more beehives (not honey production), and so the Fresno Experiment was born.
The premise of the experiment was to find out how many hives we could make that would be able to overwinter on their own stores of honey (or very limited feeding).
Watching reruns of the television series Elementary last night, Sherlock mentions twice the phrase, “Biology dictates behavior.”
In the beehive the genetics of the queen and the multiple drones she mated with is manifested in the behaviors of the workers. While honey bees progress through different work tasks according to their age, other behaviors are less defined and not seen as routine. That is to say, all bees begin as house bees and start by cleaning cells. They progress through various jobs as they age becoming nurse bees, feeding larvae, cleaning the hive of trash and dead bees, tending to the queen, wax excretion, moving nectar, and fanning the nectar or cooling the hive. However, most of these jobs are not compulsory nor do all bees perform all of these tasks as they age. There simply isn’t a need for all bees to progress through the task of feeding the queen nor is there a need for thousands of undertaker bees. The bees tend to have some degree of flexibility in shifting behaviors to meet the needs of the colony. But there is no macro view of the colony so how do they know what tasks need performing to be able to change behaviors. (Imagine an Amazon.com warehouse where all the workers seemingly just know what to do every day when they report to work.)
The same can be said of those bees that have graduated from house bee status and become foraging bees. Some specialize in pollen, other propolis, water, and still others nectar. The bees shift amongst these tasks depending on the needs of the colony but, again, their is no central command issuing “orders of the day” to direct these tasks. Yet, remarkably, the jobs get done.
So what determines bee behavior? We know that there is a biofeedback loop based on pheromones produced by the bees and that the queen has a major role in signaling, through pheromones, the colony needs and wellbeing. That’s one method of directing the day-to-day activities but it doesn’t fully account for the flexibility observed in an organization comprised of tens of thousands of bees operating on a day to day basis and responding to changes that take place in the environment and within the hive.
Let’s consider defensive behavior within a colony. Beekeepers may miss or overlook a lot of bee behavior but they seldom fail to observe a colony that is more defensive than others. Often referred to as “hot,” these colonies stand out to the beekeeper and rightly so as it’s not fun working a colony of bees intend on displaying defensive or aggressive behavior. Once again though, we typically find that even in colonies that display higher than normal defensive behavior we don’t usually see thousands of bees dedicating themselves to delivering their sting, and their life, to the cause. Most often there is one or several ready to act on the behalf of defending the colony. Additionally a measured response is noted with the bees ratcheting up the response as alarm pheromone is spread and triggering more and more bees to act. It’s biology in action.
But it begins with a genetic predisposition to act, either sooner or later, to a stimulus. Some bees tend to jump on the bandwagon early in delivering their venom payload to the unsuspecting beekeeper, seemingly before a genuine need exists to become defensive. If this behavior is excessive beekeepers blame the queen. Of course it may, in fact, be the genetics passed on from one or more of the multiple drones she mated with on her nuptial flight. But regardless, she gets the blame and is sought out for execution for this undesirable trait. The beekeeper replaces her with a queen of better disposition and through normal attrition of her progeny, and the more gentle temperament of the new queen’s offspring, the colony takes on a different personality.
And where in the above is anything other than the title of this article, “Biology dictates behavior.” There are no feelings involved. There is no sorrow for the old queen within the hive. There is nothing but the now of queen-rightness, the sensed reality of queen-lessness, and then the resumption of being queen-right. It’s stimulus response. Should a beekeeper kill the old queen without a replacement the bees simply initiate the replacement process. No rituals exist, no beliefs cloud the process, no judgement, and no processing of the loss. The bees carry on and make plans for the colony’s survival without missing a beat. The hive may fail but they will, through their genetics and biology go forward pushed by urges provided by pheromones (or lack thereof) and their genetic predispositions. Biology dictates behavior.
The beekeeper may wish to mourn the loss of a valued queen but that mourning is for the beekeeper alone. And the new beekeeper does mourn – at least the ones I have met. I too found it difficult to kill the queen early in my beekeeping. The mourning, whether for a queen or a colony, takes it’s emotional toll on some. I’ve met those that said they got out of beekeeping after losing a couple hives because, “It was too hard losing the bees.”
New beekeepers resist what is while the bees do not. Truly to understand the bees we need to learn from them. To force our understanding of them into our mental framework removes the beekeeper from a true understanding. Understanding them through our rose colored glasses discredits the bees and moves us further from what they offer us.
Today I’ll write a few words about finding and murdering the old queen. We’ll assume that you have decided the queen must die. Harsh as that sounds, sometimes it’s the only way to save a hive. Think of the colony as a living creature (superorganism) and the queen as the heart. Or more to the […]
Read more here: Pinching the Queen — Bad Beekeeping Blog
Quite a few commercial beekeepers replace queens every second year. It’s a scheduled event, sort of like a birthday. Half the hives will get a new queen in 2017, the other half in 2018, then back to the first group again. But hobby beekeepers may be able to watch their bees more closely, allowing a […]
Read more here: Good Queen; Bad Queen — Bad Beekeeping Blog
Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. (April 12, 1907-2003)
Father of Honey Bee Genetics
Bee biologist Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), known as “the father of honey bee genetics,” served on the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty from 1947 until his retirement in 1974. Long after his retirement, however, the professor continued his research and outreach programs, publishing his last scientific paper at age 87 and his last book at 90. He died at age 96 at his home in Davis.
Childhood and Career Development
Born April 12, 1907 in Houston, Harry spent his boyhood and teen years in the Southeast: Virginia, Florida and Louisiana. In his childhood, he developed a keen interest in bee breeding and worked with his grandfather, Charles Quinn. They experimented with mating queen bees and control breeding and developed what became known as the Quinn-Laidlaw hand-mating method.
In 1929, while working in Baton Rouge, Laidlaw was encouraged by his boss to attend Louisiana State University. He completed his master’s degree in entomology in 1934 from Louisiana State University and received his doctorate in genetics and entomology form the University of Wisconsin in 1939. Two years later he was inducted into the U.S. Army, commissioned. and served as the Army entomologist for the First Service Command in Boston. There he met Ruth Collins, whom he married in 1946. They lived in New York City where he worked as a civilian entomologist for the Army. His career with the UC Davis Department of Entomology began in 1947.
Laidlaw is best known for developing artificial insemination technology for honey bees. His contributions enabled selective breeding of honey bees and pioneered the fundamental study of insect genetics. He authored numerous scientific publications and four books on honey bee genetics and breeding.
Laidlaw studied pests and diseases and conducted research on the breeding of queen bees and on re-queening bee colonies. His research on artificial insemination of bees inspired poet E.B. White to write a poem, “Song of the Queen Bee,” published in the New Yorker magazine in 1945. It included the lines “What boots it to improve a bee, if it means an end to ecstasy.”
Laidlaw received national and international awards for his research and service to the university, agriculture and the beekeeping industry. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, and the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in 1991. At UC Davis, he was the first associate dean for research (1969) in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The College of Ag selected him for its Award of Distinction in 1997.
Laidlaw was awarded the Western Apiculture Society’s “Outstanding Service to Beekeeping” award in 1980, being cited as “one of the great scientists in American agriculture.” In 1981 he won the C.W. Woodworth Award of the Pacific Branch of the ESA.
Laidlaw published his classic text Queen Rearing in 1950, in collaboration with J. E. Eckert. He published his last book, Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding, written in collaboration with Robert Page, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, in 1997
Although retired, in 1980-85, he established a honey bee breeding program for the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture as part of a joint UC-Egypt agricultural development program.
Naming of Laidlaw Facility
In 2001, the Bee Biology Laboratory at UC Davis was renamed the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Local artist and sculptor Donna Billick and entomologist-artist Diane Ullman designed the sign at the facility.
Source: Harry H. Laidlaw Papers from the UC Davis Special Collections
Biographical materials, correspondence, writings, research materials, course materials, printed materials, memorabilia, photographs.
It’s bee season again! As your going through your hives, you may notice they are putting on queen cells. There are three types of cells you will see: Swarm Cells, Superscedure Cells, or Emergency Cells.
The swarm cell is typically the one you will see. This type cell is an indicator that your hive is preparing to swarm. The beehive is a super organism, and bees are eusocial. This means that each individual bee can not survive on its own for very long. Superorganisms reproduce in different ways. Honey Bees do this by swarming. They will raise a new queen, and after that queen hatches, the old queen and a number of the worker bees will leave the current hive in search of a new home. Swarm cells are typically located on the bottom of frames or around the edges. There can be several in a hive at one time.
Supersedure cells are different. These are made to replace an existing queen. Sometimes the hive views the queen as inferior. There are many reasons for this. I have had hives do it when I put in marked or clipped queens. Sometimes they do it when the think she is not laying enough brood, or is not mated properly. These cells can be anywhere on the face of the frame. Typically there are 1-3 at a time. There has been some debate over whether the workers put the eggs in, or if the current queen lays in the cell cup.
Emergency cells are easy to spot. They are made in the absence of a queen. The worker bees realize there is no queen within an hour. They respond by selecting a couple of eggs that are the correct age. The reform the wax around that egg into a queen cell. These cells can be anywhere on the frame, and are usually somewhat recessed into the frame. There is some debate over the quality of these queens. However, I have had some good success with emergency queens. I raise some of my own queens, and when the season is over I purchase them. However, sometimes a quality queen from a reputable source is not available. So I let thousands of years of evolution do what it has learned to do.
Recognizing what type of queen cells are in your hive can help you to make decisions about your hive. Sometimes it can mean the difference in whether or not you loose the hive. If you are new to beekeeping, and are unsure, ask your mentor, or take a picture and send it to another beekeeper to find out what’s going on.
Remember, swarm cells are a great time to make increase. If you have a good supply of brood, honey, pollen, and bees you can make at least one split with a swarm cell.
Source: Types of Queen cells
Source: The Apiarist, Finding the Queen
One of characteristics that distinguishes inexperienced and experienced beekeepers is the time taken finding the queen. Generally an experienced beekeeper will be much, much faster. Not every time – anyone can have a good day or a bad day – but on average.
An inexperienced beekeeper will carefully scrutinise every frame, turning it end over end with the half-way rotation they were taught during the midwinter beekeeping beginners course they attended. They’ll examine the end bars and the bottom bar. They’ll look again at either side of the frame and will then slowly return it to the box.
The experienced beekeeper will gently open the hive and lift out the dummy board and the adjacent frame. They’ll look across the remaining seams of bees before splitting them somewhere in the middle. They’ll lift out the frame on the nearside of the split and expect to find the queen on it or on the frame on the far side of the split.
And they usually do.
No, experience. And not necessarily in actually spotting the queen. Mostly this experience is in better handling of the colony in a way that maximises the chances of seeing the queen.
In the couple of paragraphs above I hinted at these differences. The beginner goes through the entire brood box thoroughly. The experienced beekeeper ‘cuts to the chase’ and splits the box at or near the middle of the brood nest.
The beginner takes time over the scrutiny of every frame. The time taken by the beginner – probably coupled with additional smoking of the hive – disturbs the colony. Disturbance results in the bees becoming agitated, which causes the beginner to give them a couple more puffs of smoke … all of which unsettles the colony (and the queen) further. Ad infinitum.
In contrast, the experienced beekeeper only bothers with the frames on which the queen is most likely to be present. The experienced beekeepers is quick, as gentle as possible and causes as little disturbance as possible … and probably uses only a small amount of smoke.
Focus where needed, skip the rest
With minimal disturbance the queen will be in or around the brood nest. She’ll almost certainly be on a frame with eggs, young larvae and ‘polished’ cells. Polished cells are those that have been prepared by the workers ready for the queen to lay in. They usually have a distinctive shiny appearance to the inner walls; this is particularly easy to see if the comb is old and dark.
There’s little chance the (undisturbed) queen will be on sealed brood and even less chance she’ll be wandering around on frames of stores. All that time taken by the beginner examining a frame of sealed stores contributes to the disturbance of the colony and reduces the likelihood of the queen being where she should be.
The experienced beekeeper splits the box at or near where s/he expects to find eggs and very young brood. There’s probably only a couple of frames in the box that are at the right stage and it’s experience – of the concentration of bees in the seams and the behaviour of those bees – that allows most of the other frames to be safely ignored.
Reassuring but unnecessary
The reality is that, during routine inspections, finding the queen is not necessary. The only times you have to find her is when you’re going to manipulate the hive or colony in a way that necessitates knowing where the queen is e.g. an artificial swarm or vertical split.
The rest of the time it’s sufficient to just look for the evidence that the queen is present. The first of these is the general temperament of the colony. Queenless colonies are usually less well tempered. However, this isn’t alone a dependable sign as lots of other things can change the temper of the colony for the worse e.g. the weather or a strong nectar flow stopping.
The key thing to look for is the presence of eggs in the colony. If they are seen the queen must have been present within the last 3 days. In addition, the orientation of the eggs – standing near vertically or lying more horizontally – can provide more accurate timing. Eggs start vertical and end horizontal over the three days before they hatch. This is usually sufficient evidence that the queen is present.
Of course, just finding eggs isn’t sufficient evidence that the colony isn’t thinking of swarming. To determine that there are other things to check for e.g. the rate at which eggs are being laid and the presence or absence of queen cells, but I’ll deal with these in more detail some other time.
If you still feel the need to see the queen on every inspection my advice is to stop looking for her … at least consciously. Instead, concentrate on what really matters. Look for the evidence that the colony is queenright, by comparison with your notes work out whether the queen is laying more or less than at the last inspection, observe the laying pattern and look for signs of brood diseases.
By doing this you’ll predominantly be concentrating on the frames the queen is most likely to be on anyway. By doing this with minimal disruption to the colony the queen should remain undisturbed. Instead of running around frantically she’ll be calmly seeking out polished cells to lay eggs in. Therefore your chances of finding the queen are increased.
Observe the behaviour of bees to other bees on the frame – not by staring at every bee, but by quickly scanning for normal and unusual behaviour. Get used to the rate they walk about on the frames, their pattern of movement and how closely they approach each other.
When undisturbed, the queen is the one that looks out of place. She’s bigger of course, she walks about with more purpose and often more slowly than other bees. The workers make way for her, often parting as she approaches and closing up again as she passes. She may stop regularly to inspect cells or to lay eggs. Bees may be more attentive to her than to other bees. She’s the odd one out.
If you’re intent on finding the queen, stop searching and start seeing.
May the force be with you.
For a beekeeper, queen cells can symbolize success and failure simultaneously. Personally, it’s one of my favorite things to find during a hive inspection. Something about opening up the hive and seeing multiple, healthy queen cells reminds me that our bees will, more often than not, do just fine without us.
There are three different “types” of queen cells –
- Supercedure Cells – When the colony chooses to replace the existing queen. This usually indicates a problem with the previous queen – poor brood pattern, health problems, etc.
- Swarm Cells – built when a colony is preparing to swarm. These queen cells are left behind when the colony leaves with the old queen.
- Emergency Cells – These are made from existing eggs / larvae when something happens to the queen. This is how a hive naturally recovers from queen death.
Using Queen Cells to start a new colony can be a great way to utilize your apiary’s natural resources. You can carefully remove select queen cells and place them in the hive that needs a queen. This is best done on day 14 or 15.
One of the best resources for queen rearing that we’ve found online came from Glenn Apiaries – he’s got the best and most simplistic diagram so we’ve included that and the explanation he has along with it below:
Day 1 – Give breeder hive an empty dark brood comb to lay eggs in.
Day 4 – Transfer (graft) larva into artificial queen cell cups, from the breeder comb. Place the frame into a strong colony (cell builder) made queenless the day before.
Day 14 – Remove completed cells from cell builder. Leave one cell behind to replace the queen. Keep queen cells warm (80-94 F) until they are placed in queenless hives (mating nucs).
Day 22 – Virgin queens are ready to mate. They require nice weather (69 F), and an abundance of drones to mate with. A few colonies within a mile are adequate for providing drones for mating.
Day 27 – If queens mate without weather delay, they should now be laying eggs.
Weather delays in mating will add days to the process, after 3 weeks delay, virgin queens may start to lay unfertilized eggs.
Time your activities so that warm temperatures and drones are available when the queens are ready to mate.
Source: Queen Cells
School kids need a new lesson about royal jelly.
The kids in the Grade 5 classroom knew all about royal jelly.
“The bees feed it to their babies and they turn into queens.”
And so it is. We think. Royal jelly – countless journal articles (and Wikipedia) tell us – stimulates the latent she-ness in a female larva. It removes her from a future life of weary drudgery as a worker destined to live six short weeks, then die wedged between some dusty stigma and anther. Royal jelly gives the lucky larva a future life as a queen employed in monotonous drudgery as an egg-laying machine destined to deposit progeny for three years in a crowded dark den, then die in a palace coup. There’s not much of an advantage in the queen’s life. But it’s longer. And there must be a crown or something that comes with the job.
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Caught in the middle with bees!
Starting out, the first two or three years, it seems easier, safer, and more financially prudent to simply buy queens from the local association prior to making spring splits. If you have 2 or 3 hives that need splitting it’s not too costly and ensures a greater degree of success to buy the queens and make splits installing the purchased queens. It almost always results in a good outcome.
Then, if your bee fever grows, you begin to have more colonies and the check for those queens adds up to serious cash – cash better saved for other beekeeping toys. Additionally, aren’t we suppose to be selecting breeding stock and rearing our own queens that survive our climate and the mites? Plus, raising my own allows me to drop that cool word, “sustainable.”
I’ve been resistant to rearing my own queens for the past couple years although I know I should have been doing so. I’m not quite sure if I’m just lazy, busy with other bee projects, afraid of failure, or just not interested in queen rearing. But, at last, it’s time.
I’m not sure if my eyes are good enough anymore for grafting. I thought about buying some of those jeweler’s or watchmaker’s glasses. But then I’d also be buying more dedicated queen rearing equipment as well. Cell punching helps and I’m waiting for a class which may convince me to adopt a simple grafting method. Regardless, most all the grafting methods neccessitate multiple boxes, transfers, more bee stuff and can be a bit pricey. Simplier (non grafting) equipment like the Nicot or Jenter systems are also costly.
On the other extreme is the walkaway split, making sure the queenless split has larvae of appropriate age and allowing the bees to make an emergency queen. Additional methods of cell crushing can be added to improve the outcome but making multiple walkaway splits is a bit scary – what if half of them don’t make it? I’m a little OCD and looking for a little more control and perhaps even better outcome.
So, remembering the low tech methods of our forefathers, and with a mind to keeping costs at a minimum, I decided on using one of the throwbacks like the Miller or Hopkins methods. A mentor once suggested the Hopkins method to me and it sounds easy enough and promises to raise more queens than I’ll need. Basically it involves taking a frame of appropriately aged larvae and placing it horizontally over a densely populated queenless split. It’s low risk as well, if all goes poorly, such as a sudden change in the weather, the worst that can happen is I re-unite that split with their parent colony. So that’s what I’ve decided to attempt this year. Another adventure in beekeeping! Above are pictures of the 2″ shim I’ll be using to place the frame over the colony. Also a link below if you’re interested in reading more about the Hopkins method of queen rearing.