ominous queen cups

This photo is what I believe to be a queen cup. We found it 5/22/10 and I marked the location on the frame where we saw it. But since it isn’t a full queen cell, and there doesn’t seem to be an egg in it, I tried not to think about it. For memorial day, levi & i did a hive inspection. The queen cup was still there, still not filled. But there were actually about five queen cups in the hive this week. Here’s a photo of the same queen cup so you can see how totally not-a-queen-cell this is. It’s not progressing at all.

I am really really a beginner beekeeper, and I can’t explain much about the queen cups, except some basic things. Bees build a queen cup when they want a new queen – whether because their queen is lacking or old or poorly mated, or because the hive is too crowded and they are ready to reproduce the hive. Queen cups can become queen cells if there’s an egg in them. Queen cells give rise to queen bees, and there can only be one queen in the hive. If they don’t like their queen and they raise a new one to replace her, it’s called supercedure. If they are getting ready to split into two colonies, it’s a swarm. If she’s dead and they need a new one, it’s called an emergency. Queen cells in the middle of a frame mean supercedure. Queen cups along the bottom of a frame mean swarm. Our hive has queen cups in both positions! There – that’s the extent of my knowledge of queen cups. I am still in “research mode” about what this means about our beehive. So far as I can tell, all the sound advice points to letting them do their thing. Queen cups could mean anything, or nothing at all. They could be following the Girl Scout motto (Be Prepared). The best advice is — Trust the bees. (This is becoming my mantra.)

We saw our queen on memorial day. She looks to be in good health, and there were definitely fresh eggs in the brood nest. It’s hard not to take it personally – How could they want to replace her! I haven’t even settled on her name! Why don’t they like the hive? Maybe I waited too long to put on the second hive body and they got too crowded? But they hadn’t built out the first one yet, so that theory doesn’t make sense. But really, they are wild animals with their own instincts and urges. Here’s a photo of the queen on memorial day. She looks good, right?

They definitely don’t have the critical mass to split into two colonies, yet, so hopefully they won’t try it. I need to get a bait hive set out, in case they do try to swarm. A bait hive would increase my chances of retaining them. If they split, I think the chance of either colony making it through the winter is very low.

Intensive, creative google’ing is producing sub-par information. We didn’t cover this in my beekeeper class yet, and the mountain of beekeeping books piled next to my bed seem to have less than a paragraph about queen cups. I need to call my bee mentor and beg for insight. This beekeeping hobby is an uncertain, confusing, mysterious, humbling experience.


Filed under bees, spring

7 responses to “ominous queen cups

  1. Sure looks like a queen cell (to this novice)–but great news that there’s no egg/royal jelly. There was a discussion about this on the SF Beeks listserv. Folks said that queen cells are often just a normal part of hive “furniture”… They tried to assure us new folks that if there isn’t overcrowding and if there are signs of the queen, there shouldn’t be a problem.

    • jess s

      I agree. It seems like they are “just in case” and as long as we watch them & make sure they don’t turn into queen cells, well, it’s good enough. It’s just a little alarming to see them and think “Oh Crap! What did my book say about this???”

      Practicing my Deep Breathing. Not for the faint of heart!

      • A wonderful beekeeper visited our hive today. He was surprised at the dimensions of the boxes (!)–too wide–and thought that might explain the burr comb on the sides. He suggested I design some really narrow follower boards. If I figure this out, I’ll let you know, since you might have the same problem…

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the swarm « krista and jess

  3. Katelyn

    On my first hive inspection today of my very first hive, I too found some queen cups!!! And my incessant googling has brought me here. I think I may have to adopt your mantra “Trust the Bees”.

    • jess s

      Just make sure they aren’t crowded and hope for good weather! My queen cups did result in a swarm (read about it over here and we wrote about it a lot more) but your mileage may vary! A fellow newbie beehive blogger (fog city bees) found queen cups on one inspection, and the bees had dismantled them by the next time. But what option do we have besides trusting the bees? Anyway, good luck and thanks for stopping by!

      • Katelyn

        Well since I last came upon this page, there’s been more action in the hive (or maybe not enough action actually…)

        The new queen emerged and failed to mate (hence the not enough action part) I’m keeping bees in the city, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. So now I’m in the process of tracking down a new fertilized queen to replace my virgin queen.

        On the upside….learning new things every day!!!

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