Dealing with an aggressive colony

Over the last couple of months we have been increasingly bothered with one of our colonies, which has become a little aggressive. The bees also have the bad habit of following us after we approach the hive. As hobby beekeepers, working with a large colony of angry bees is not pleasant and we certainly do not want anyone to get stung. We therefore decided to replace the queen before matters got out of hand. Rather than try to introduce a new queen, which is never certain of success, we decided to allow them to create a replacement. However, we did not want one from this queen’s eggs, but from another colony of very nice bees. To start with, we went through the hive to make sure there were no existing swarm or supersedure cells. We then found the queen and removed her.

After one week, we went through the entire colony, checking each frame in turn for queen cells. Swarm cells usually hang from the bottom of the frame, whilst the supersedure or, as in this case, emergency cells are built from the face of the comb. In a large colony like this, it is necessary to shake the bees off of some of the frames to be certain that all of the cells are found. They had made around two dozen viable cells, which we removed, leaving the colony without any means of producing a replacement queen. This week, after waiting another four days, we went through them once again just to be certain, then introduced a frame with eggs from the donor colony from which they should produce some new queen cells.

We will now leave the colony alone until towards the end of June, when we will inspect it to see if we have any signs of a successfully mated queen. Although they will make a number of potential queens, when one emerges it will try to kill any others as well as those yet to emerge, leaving just the one queen. The new queen should emerge after about 16 days, after which she will need to mate. If we are lucky, we should find eggs after about one month.

It is not necessarily the usual way of replacing the queen, but it should be fine at this time of year when there are lots of drones flying. The donor colony has an artificially inseminated Italian queen; these bees are very gentle. Bees from the replacement queen will be some sort of mixture, but the first crossing should still be good. Hopefully, replacing the queen will give us a calmer colony. When we went through them after removing the queen, and later the queen cells, we rather expected them to be more aggressive, but they appeared to be calmer than before.

All bee larvae are fed with a little royal jelly, but the queen is fed with much more; it is this feeding that determines that the bee will develop as a queen rather than a worker

All bee larvae are fed with a little royal jelly, but the queen is fed with much more; it is this feeding that determines that the bee will develop as a queen rather than a worker

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