Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Expectations And Surprises

When I go into a hive there are a few things I expect to see. One is the small hive beetle, usually the girls have them corralled and proplised in somewhere. On top I can expect to see them in a corner but mostly at the end of a frame or two. The picture below shows the ends of the frame proplised and the beetles are corralled in the middle with a few bees standing guard over them. Now something unusual I have recently discovered and other beekeepers have noticed it as well, is the bees will feed the beetles while in this area. It has been said that the beetles have learned the "hunger cry" of the bee and instinctively the bee responds with feeding. It's amazing to watch, the beetle will put up it's front legs, almost like a puppy or dog begging for food, and the bee will feed it. I've seen this a couple of times and wish I could get in to photograph it happening. The thing is once the bees move away from the guard barrier the beetles escape and go ramped through the hive and will destroy it if the bees don't gain back control. Before I move ANYTHING in the hive I take my hive tool and go between the hive box and the frame where the beetles are and squish them, I also catch them with my tweezers and kill them, a frame doesn't go back into the hives if I see a beetle on it! (I can't help it) ;)

Other things I expect to see is queen cells. Here in the south we don't have a long winter and our bees start hive building and swarming sometimes in January right up to the first frost. I try to go into our hives at least every 14 to 16 days....however this past week I let it go by and now I have to pay for it. Regular routine maintenance is very important for "backyard", "Hobby", "Weekend", etc. beekeepers. Or I should say, if you don't want your hives to swarm or to lose them entirely. The picture above is of a queen cell that has been chewed from the side, which can mean two things....1. The old queen found it and chewed it open to kill the queen inside before she could hatch, or....2. A new queen hatched and she chewed it open.....usually if there is one queen cell there is more! This particular hive had five on this frame alone! All chewed out except for one. But, if you will look closely at this particular cell.....see how the bottom is chewed out as well? Hmmm...that means she didn't die before she hatched! She's also in here somewhere. When a queen hatches successfully she chews her way out through the bottom, if it's chewed from the side....something else did it.

This makes things even more difficult for someone like me because I HAVE to know what's going on! Most people could walk away from this hive after finding one queen and not think twice about it's future or what even happened...not me, I have to find out. I looked even harder for the "old" queen, which she really isn't "old", just a few months old. But, thankfully I marked her when she hatched out back then. Well, to make a long story short, I couldn't find her (not at first). But I did find the other two! These are things that are "surprises"...things I do NOT expect to see in a hive. So in the end I found the older queen and two of her daughters! The thing that was strange to me is, remember the cell that was chewed and left for dead? She was the first one I found and bless her heart, her wings were chewed, she's a beautiful queen, but will not be able to fly. I'm curious, if what the books say is true about a queen, that she flies from the hive to mate, if she will still just mate with the drones in the hive? Most people would have just killed these queens or at least her, but I can't bring myself to do it. I mean, gee wiz, she survived an attack before she ever even hatched, who am I to snuff her out???

This is the older queen, I didn't find her until I was putting the hive back. This picture is out of order....
The wingless queen is in here but I couldn't get a picture of her at the time.
This little queen is the suspect chewer...can you tell which one she is?Once I had found these two, I still hadn't found the older queen. I didn't want to kill them and I wasn't prepared with queen stations to put them so I let the wingless queen go into the brood box, put a queen excluder on, then put the "chewer queen" in the top.
I also have a "compulsive" disorder.....I HAVE to go back over things to make sure everything is okay before I put them back in place. That means the frames get checked AT least twice during my inspections ;) (drives my husband crazy when he works with me) BUT, this time that was a "good thing"....I found the older queen! SO now we have THREE queens in this ONE hive! I got another excluder and put together another box and just put them one on top of the other...until I can put together a queen box.
You see, the amazing thing about honeybees.....if they hatch out their own queen or queens they will take care of them, the queens have the same hive pheromone. The only one you have to keep them protected from is another queen inside the hive. SO, for now we have a three queened hive!
I went back into the top yesterday (two days later) and the top queen is still doing good. Not a good picture but can you see her below?

I caught her under this marking cage, so I can mark her.
There she is in the picture below, marked in blue. Newly hatched queens are usually chunky. Their abdomen hasn't grown out long and slender, but she has her big "queen spot" behind her head that makes her easier to identify.
I want to get a picture of the wingless queen because she has a honey colored abdomen and she is larger than this one. I put her in the bottom first because she had more bees tending to her than this one did.
We have a "cut out" to do next weekend so this is also a good thing, we may need one of these queens. We have a hive that has been without a queen, that I have to check on today to see if she has hatched. If she didn't make it I have one now ;)
The summers here are very hard on honeybees, we lose a lot of queens but thankfully they know how to prepare ;) The thing is the beekeeper also needs to prepare;)
Well, I need to get Bizzy!
Until next time....


  1. Julie, I really enjoyed reading about your hive inspection and finding three queens! I was on the edge of my seat - and I just knew you wouldn't be killing them :) I'm pretty sure you're the only person I know with a 3 queen hive!

    I really wish you could get a picture of the bees feeding the beetles! That is amazing.

    Awesome post! Love ya lots.


  2. I know Penny! But we won't have them for long, we've had double queen hives before and it's just too much work for one person and gets confusing when both of us are in the hive.
    I would dearly love to video or photograph the feeding of the beetles! The thing is, to do it slowly so as not to disturb the bees, maybe someone could do it with one of those tiny cameras that could stay at the site?
    My camera just won't take closeup shots of anything without blurring.

    Love Ya Bunches!

    I had posted a comment here earlier but it's gone!