Hive inspection finds an unusually flighty queen

Busy bee hive

Today was time to go through all of the bee hives, a job that needs doing ideally once per week at this time of year. We currently have four colonies: one long deep hive which we started with a virgin Italian gold queen, who was likely mated with the Buckfast bees that we kept at the time; one national hive with an Italian queen, one with our last Carniolan queen, and one that lost its queen earlier in the year. The latter was requeened a few weeks ago. However, although the queen was initially accepted, she did not appear to lay well and, on a recent inspection, was nowhere to be found. They had made supercedure cells and we decided to leave them to make a replacement for now, and worry about requeening the hive later. Today we found the queen cell vacated but the hive queenless once again, with no sign of eggs. Now there are few bees left, and those are getting old. We decided to leave that hive alone and start a new colony.

The place we bought the queen from offered a replacement, so we started a new colony by taking a few frames from the long deep hive (actually, these were standard size frames that we wanted to remove anyway, so as to replace with all deep frames), placing in a polystyrene nucleus hive, and adding the new queen in a cage. If all goes well, after a few weeks we can move them to their new home.

Then we moved on to inspect the largest colony, with the last of our Carniolan queens. This colony had become huge, and Carniolans are very prone to swarming. We had removed many of the brood frames a few weeks ago to start another colony, merged with a nucleus with an Italian queen, which had been going nicely. We had hoped that this would discourage further swarming, and the main task here was to go through all of the frames and remove any swarm cells we found. Well, we were not happy to find that there were many of them. Worse than that, whilst inspecting a frame, we spotted the queen, who then flew off the frame and disappeared. We do not clip our queens so they can fly, but do not, as they are so heavy and not inclined to. She must have been slimming down ready to swarm and, though we traced her flight for some moments, she soon flew out of sight. That was certainly a very unusual occurrence and something of a setback. We left the hive alone for some minutes, then shut it back up whilst we moved onto the next hive.

There was just no way that the queen could return, so we decided to go ahead and remove all of the swarm cells in preparation for replacing the queen in a week or so. We did not want them to produce a replacement as bees from even the first crossing of a Carniolan can be aggressive. Only a few frames into the inspection, though, and we found the queen happily wandering around on one of the frames. We were stunned to find her there again as though nothing had happened. Overall, then, not too bad a day. One hive has failed, but we will soon have a new colony to replace it, with time for it to build up nicely before winter.

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