Well, when we “tuned in” last Friday to Days of Our Hives – Margaret and I had just gone through our hive to see if we had a laying Queen in there, it’d been 15 days since our last inspection, and by all information that we had, we were expecting to see evidence of a laying queen in our colony. But… We didn’t. We saw very light frames without many bees on them, and no evidence of brood (eggs or larva). I saw lots of wrestling at the front of the hive between our bees, and what I assume are robber bees. Which lead us into thinking, “Hey maybe our hive is getting really weak.” And, “Maybe our hive is queenless.” So we called around to see if it would be possible to get a queen, and to ask what we should do. The people we spoke to, said if our hive is truly queenless, and all the brood from the previous queen had hatched out, the it would be difficult for the bees to accept just a new queen – and that we might have to also get a “nuc” (a nucleus hive), and do a combination. It was suggested to us that we get a three frame nuc, which is a small nucleus hive (a frame of capped brood, a frame of open brood, a frame of honey and pollen stores, a queen, and between 5 and 6 thousand bees). Combining this nuc with the hive would be a bit of a tricky operation, but it would also increase the bee population, and give them some brood and a queen to work with – which is what it looked like last Friday that our hive might need. Reading the bee forums, and some of the literature out there, this is the best advice for a hive in a situation where it’s queenless, and there is no brood. Worker bees only live four to six weeks in the summer, so queenlessness is a big thing, a hive can shrivel up in a few weeks time.
The person I had talked to about acquiring the nucleus and queen, said from what I had described over the phone it sounded like we might be queenless. The key word here is “might”. So before I spent three hours in the car driving back and forth from Albion today, and 80 or so dollars for the nuc, I wanted to take another peek in the hive to make sure. So I popped the cork on this hive today (Monday, July 25th) at about ten am (first time going through the hive by myself – without Margaret or Thom nearby), and pulled up the first frame and saw – no brood and only a few bees. I pulled up the second frame and saw – no brood but more bees. I pulled up the third frame and saw – a load of bees on the frame! More bees than I had seen on Friday. In fact, when I pulled up the fifth frame I saw larva, big fat C-shaped larva. On the sixth frame I saw the same. The middle two frames of the bottom brood box had eggs laid in them! I moved on to the seventh frame, but I stopped and went back to the sixth frame. I thought I had better make sure that the frame hadn’t been laid in by workers.
Sometimes, if a hive is queenless long enough, and there is no brood from which to develop an emergency replacement queen – workers ovaries are activated because of the lack of queen pheromone inhibiting them. These eggs are haploid, and only develop into drone bees, which I think could be nature’s last ditch effort to carry on the bees genetic line by flooding the area with drones, and hazarding that there might be a virgin queen in a healthy colony nearby ready to mate. In rare instances honey bees can make diploid worker eggs hives in a phenomena called Thelytoky, a form of be parthenogenesis a form of self cloning. Dave Cushman has a good review of Thelytoky.
But… I’ve digressed somewhat from the “Honeybee Soap Opera”… I pulled up the sixth frame again and saw:
Da Da Dum!
Our new queen calmly moving around on the frames looking for a good place to lay her next egg. I carefully placed the frame back in the hive, and sealed the whole MacGilla back up. The fact that I saw C-shaped larva in the hive means that she’s been laying for at least five days, most likely more. So we just missed seeing the eggs when we went through the hive last Friday.
Sorry I don’t have any pictures, as I said, I was doing this by myself, and I was moving fast, because, I thought I was going to be on the road for three hours today. But I learned something, and that is, nuking the hive, really isn’t the only way to be sure. Sometimes you just gotta go through the whole thing one more time using a lot of harsh language. 🙂
I’ll leave with pictures of bees foraging on clover in our back yard.
Tune in next week for an exciting new episode of Days of Our Hives.