Heads In? OR Stingers In? The answer to this question will help a beekeeper determine whether or not a colony is ready to accept the introduction of a new queen. It is common over the course of the life of a honey bee colony, for the queen to need replacement in order for the colony to survive. The colony may choose to replace her by building queen cells or the beekeeper may choose to replace her. This time of year at the onset of the honey flow, a beekeeper may opt to replace the queen with an already mated queen ready to begin laying as soon as she is released in order to keep the colony population high for the spring nectar collection. The colony depends on the high work force to store enough honey for the rest of the year.
This week, I replaced a failing queen. The queen had not been laying for several weeks and the colony population was declining. I have been supplementing the colony with frames of brood and eggs from a strong colony in hopes that the colony would re-queen itself. For some reason it did not, so I had to take steps to save the colony.
First I located the failing Queen and caged her.
This Queen has a yellow dot on her back indicating that she was born in 2017. You can barely make out her dot on the lower right side of the cage clip.
Once the old queen is caged. I began preparations for installing the new queen.
Since the old queen's pheromones are still fairly strong within this colony. I will need to give the new queen some protection until the colony decides to accept her as the reigning queen. I will leave her in the queen cage with her attending worker's to care for her without removing any of the cage corks for about 2-3 days and observe the behavior of the colony toward the new queen.
The colony needs time for the pheromones of the new queen to be spread throughout the hive before they will be ready to accept her as their new leader. These pheromones are spread through touch. The colony will make contact with the attendants in the cage who have touched the queen and over time, the smell will be spread throughout the hive.
The queen cage is lodged in the wax comb between 2 brood frames with the caged screen facing up so that interaction can occur. Watch the video below to see first reactions.
If the colony workers approach the new queen with their tails or stingers (like in the leading photo), then I know they are being aggressive and not ready to accept her. Releasing her now would mean certain death.
If the colony workers approach her with their heads and antennae and exchange friendly greetings and food with the queen and her attendants, then the colony most likely will accept her if she is released.
At this point of acceptance, I will remove the cork from the candy plug end of the queen cage and replace the queen cage back into the colony and let the colony workers eat through the candy plug releasing the queen into the colony to begin her career of laying eggs and maintaining the equilibrium of the colony.
So what happened to the old queen? Well, let's just say that we said our good byes and wished the new queen a long and productive life!