NZBF: Queen Cells. Swarm Cells vs Supersedure Cells

Welcome to NZ Beekeepers+
Would you like to join the rest of our members? Feel free to sign up today.
Sign up

Alastair

Founder Member
8,171
9,408
Auckland
Experience
Semi Commercial
I decided to put this in the beginner section because it's mostly beginners who are misled with the popular misconception around swarm cells vs supersedure cells. Although there's a few old hands as well LOL.

There are several reasons bees build queen cells. One is because they plan to send out a swarm which will take their queen with it, so they have to make a replacement queen. The second is if their queen is getting old and needs to be replaced by a new queen. The third is if the queen dies suddenly, this is usually because the beekeeper accidentally killed it, and the bees have to make a new queen. If the queen is killed, the bees have to make these queen cells from an existing larva so the queen cell has to be built from the bottom of a cell with a baby bee in it, so these queen cells are called emergency cells. Because they are different to swarm and supersedure cells that are planned. For planned queen cells, the bees build a cell cup first, then the queen lays an egg in it, so planned queen cells are not coming out from a worker brood cell like an emergency queen cell is.

In the picture there are 3 queen cells at around the middle of the comb. We can see these cells are planned queen cells, because they are made from cell cups built by the bees, they are not emergency queen cells coming from the bottom of a worker brood cell.

So we know the bees have deliberately built these cells to make one or more new queens, for the purpose of supersedure of an old queen, or for swarming.

Now here's the bit that is a commonly held misconception. - It is often said that you can tell what the bees are going to do, because if they are going to swarm the queen cells will be at the bottom of the comb, and if they are to supersede an old queen but the hive is not planning to swarm, the cells will be on the face of the comb not necessarily at the bottom. But warning - this is often not true.

The queen cells in the picture, according to this misconceptioon would be for supersedure. But in fact this picture was taken in a hive that just swarmed, so the queen cells pictured were built for swarmimg.

So, if you find queen cells in your hive, how do you tell why the bees made them and what the bees are planning to do?

It's actually pretty easy. If there are just one or two queen cells total, and they are planned queen cells not emergency cells, the bees are planning to supersede a queen. In this case the queen cells should normally be left, because if the bees think their queen needs to be replaced, they are probably right. Let them make you a nice new queen.
If there are many cells, and they are planned cells not emergency cells, the hive is probably planning to swarm. They build many cells when planning to swarm, much more than 3, because they may send out more than one swarm. So the number of cells tells you what the bees plans are.

If the hive has been made queenless by the beekeeper acidentally killing the queen, the bees will build queen cells to make a new queen, provided they have young worker larvae of a young enough age to convert to queens. In this situation the bees will often build many queen cells, on the surface, it can look similar to a hive that is preparing to swarm. But take a close look. If you see the queen cells are built from the bottoms of worker cells because the bees had to use worker larvae, that tells you the hive is queenless and the cells are emergency cells. Also, if the queen has been killed, there will be no eggs or very young larvae in the hive because the queen was not there to lay them.

There's more, but I don't want the post to be too long and boring, I will let others come in and add stuff about the bee behaviour etc that can help diagnose what is happening when you see queen cells.

Below, a pic of three queen cells built so the hive canswarm

swarm cells.jpg
 
3,394
6,305
Hawkes Bay
Experience
Commercial
The difference between supersedure and swarming always used to be pretty obvious and it often still is but I have noticed since varoa that you can get quite a few hives that can't work out what they want to do. I get quite a few hives that look like they are superseding but with just a few extra cells and some of these will swarm. If the Queen is laying well I treat it as if it is swarming and cut out all the cells but if it's laying looks a bit patchy I will go through and cut out all but one and this normally leads to a supersedure but at least of the hive does swarm it will only swarm once. I have been seeing quite a few hives lately that have started to swarm and then change their minds and you see queen cells full of Royal jelly but with the grub gone. It pays to treat these hives as if they are swarming and weaken them down somewhat.
Don't be too disheartened if your hives swarms. I have been doing this for over 50 years and I still have hives that swarm.
 

Bron

Staff member
Platinum
2,924
3,108
Gisborne
Experience
Commercial
Yep, it’s been a funny old season. Went to a yard Wednesday which I thought we’d got a good handle on, dealt to the strength & a couple of girls who were looking like leaving home by giving them a new residence. We reckon we lost a couple to swarming. One had four frames taken to a mega split. Should have just chopped out all but all the cells and given the old girl a wee squeeze.
Dale picked up a virgin swarm for one of her mates (it was a public nuisance in town) that arvo. Clean catch in an empty box, base and lid. We put it into an existing hive our swarm yard. Weve actively set out to make no more hives this year. It makes for an interesting swarm control. Making more bees is dead easy. Making none is hard, and kinda weird!
 

kaihoka

Gold
262
225
whanganui inlet
Experience
Hobbyist
Can you ever get a decent queen out of a weak hive making an emergency queen .
I was planning to take a swarm cell from my strong autumn queen hive but it shows no sign of swarming.
The weak hive was hit bad with varroa and healthy bees are being born but the queen is a very patchy layer .
There is plenty of pollen in the hive and stores coming in.
I thought I might kill the queen and see what happens .
I want honey off my strong hive so do not want to split her up.
 

Dansar

Founder Member
BOP Club
6,152
5,638
Putaruru
Experience
Commercial
Can you ever get a decent queen out of a weak hive making an emergency queen .
I was planning to take a swarm cell from my strong autumn queen hive but it shows no sign of swarming.
The weak hive was hit bad with varroa and healthy bees are being born but the queen is a very patchy layer .
There is plenty of pollen in the hive and stores coming in.
I thought I might kill the queen and see what happens .
I want honey off my strong hive so do not want to split her up.
You could make a small split from your strong hive with the old queen, the now queenless strong colony will raise some good cells for you to choose from. Once capped you could use a cell for the weak colony. Introduce the old queen back to her hive by either caging her or paper (probably 2 or 3 sheets of paper) nuc so she is introduced back slowly. Make sure that you remove all cells that were made otherwise she will be killed by any virgin queens that emerge.
 
3,394
6,305
Hawkes Bay
Experience
Commercial
Can you ever get a decent queen out of a weak hive making an emergency queen .
yes. As long as it is not a drone layer you can end up with a reasonable Queen. When hives have been badly affected by varoa\weakness et cetera they can take some time to recover and some of those queens can end up being perfectly fine. Having said that ever since we have had varoa the number of failing queens is way higher than it used to be. When I retire I may go back through 60 years of data and see if I can back up some of my statements with some statistical science.
 
1
1
Auckland
Experience
Hobbyist
I decided to put this in the beginner section because it's mostly beginners who are misled with the popular misconception around swarm cells vs supersedure cells. Although there's a few old hands as well LOL.

There are several reasons bees build queen cells. One is because they plan to send out a swarm which will take their queen with it, so they have to make a replacement queen. The second is if their queen is getting old and needs to be replaced by a new queen. The third is if the queen dies suddenly, this is usually because the beekeeper accidentally killed it, and the bees have to make a new queen. If the queen is killed, the bees have to make these queen cells from an existing larva so the queen cell has to be built from the bottom of a cell with a baby bee in it, so these queen cells are called emergency cells. Because they are different to swarm and supersedure cells that are planned. For planned queen cells, the bees build a cell cup first, then the queen lays an egg in it, so planned queen cells are not coming out from a worker brood cell like an emergency queen cell is.

In the picture there are 3 queen cells at around the middle of the comb. We can see these cells are planned queen cells, because they are made from cell cups built by the bees, they are not emergency queen cells coming from the bottom of a worker brood cell.

So we know the bees have deliberately built these cells to make one or more new queens, for the purpose of supersedure of an old queen, or for swarming.

Now here's the bit that is a commonly held misconception. - It is often said that you can tell what the bees are going to do, because if they are going to swarm the queen cells will be at the bottom of the comb, and if they are to supersede an old queen but the hive is not planning to swarm, the cells will be on the face of the comb not necessarily at the bottom. But warning - this is often not true.

The queen cells in the picture, according to this misconceptioon would be for supersedure. But in fact this picture was taken in a hive that just swarmed, so the queen cells pictured were built for swarmimg.

So, if you find queen cells in your hive, how do you tell why the bees made them and what the bees are planning to do?

It's actually pretty easy. If there are just one or two queen cells total, and they are planned queen cells not emergency cells, the bees are planning to supersede a queen. In this case the queen cells should normally be left, because if the bees think their queen needs to be replaced, they are probably right. Let them make you a nice new queen.
If there are many cells, and they are planned cells not emergency cells, the hive is probably planning to swarm. They build many cells when planning to swarm, much more than 3, because they may send out more than one swarm. So the number of cells tells you what the bees plans are.

If the hive has been made queenless by the beekeeper acidentally killing the queen, the bees will build queen cells to make a new queen, provided they have young worker larvae of a young enough age to convert to queens. In this situation the bees will often build many queen cells, on the surface, it can look similar to a hive that is preparing to swarm. But take a close look. If you see the queen cells are built from the bottoms of worker cells because the bees had to use worker larvae, that tells you the hive is queenless and the cells are emergency cells. Also, if the queen has been killed, there will be no eggs or very young larvae in the hive because the queen was not there to lay them.

There's more, but I don't want the post to be too long and boring, I will let others come in and add stuff about the bee behaviour etc that can help diagnose what is happening when you see queen cells.

Below, a pic of three queen cells built so the hive canswarm

View attachment 1029
Thanks good summary
 
  • Like
Reactions: Alastair


Top