Friday, December 4, 2009

The Queen is dead.

Well this is a rather upsetting post to make, and hard to know exactly what it means for the future.
Yesterday morning I found my queen bee lying dead outside the hive on the ground. here is a picture of her in the middle, surrounded by a few dead worker bees for comparison (click the photo and it will enlarge):

After discussing this with experienced beekeepers on two forums, and also with the most excellent 'natural' beekeeper who is my local mentor, it's hard to know what this event actually might mean.
The death of this queen can be distilled down to three possible current hive situations:
1) For some reason the queen died and now there is no queen. I'll have to wait 'til Spring to replace her with a new bought queen from somewhere.
2) The bees made a new queen who replaced this old queen. This is pretty unusual this late in the year and the virgin queen would not have any drones left now to mate with. A virgin queen emerging now would not likely be in vigorous enough condition by Spring to mate and start laying. There have not been any drones (males) left for over a month now. All drones get kicked out of the hive to die once the chilly weather sets in. There are no males left around for mating with.
3) This third is the least likely explanation, but is still slightly possible- Occasionally when a new queen is raised, the hive will allow the old queen to coexist until she finally dies off naturally. Some beekeepers have told me they had a two queen hive of mother and daughter for a couple of months. One showed me a photo she took of her two queens calmly going about their business side by side in her hive. If this happened, then perhaps that new queen hatched six or eight weeks ago when there were still drones around and mated and is fertile. If that's the case then all is well, but I tend to think this is the least likely explanation.

In any case, I won't know for sure what the hive status is until Spring, when I can check for eggs and larvae. Having to wait for four months without knowing is of course very difficult, but I have little choice. Meanwhile, to maintain my sanity through the long winter, I choose to resolutely believe in the optimistic explanation #3 above.

This morning I sat by the hive for a while and watched the girls. It's a sunny day and they are coming in and out, doing normal bee things.... removing dead workers from the hive and discarding them, cleaning 'washboarding' around the upper entrance, some bees were even coming in from the field with little bits of pollen on their leg baskets. They seemed to be acting as though nothing was wrong at all. ??
I take this as a good sign, since people tell me bees get agitated and act upset when there is no queen. Today is warm and sunny enough so that feel I can peek in under the top cover later this sunny afternoon to give them a quick visual check without disturbing them. It'll be interesting to see if they are in an agitated state or if they are as calm and genttle as they usually are.
UPDATE: I did open the hive and examine them a bit this afternoon. The bees were acting happy and normal. Again I was told that this might indicate there is indeed a queen in there. Apparent bees in a hive know within 24 hours that there is no queen and they act agitated and confused and a bit aggressive, making more of a buzz 'roar' than the usual mellow hive buzz. I saw none of those described 'queenless' signs and it must have been at least 48 hours after that queen died, so I will keep hoping through the winter.


  1. I just stumbled upon your blog and I am so sorry to hear about your queen bee. I have a few backyard chickens and I was thinking of expanding my little backyard farm with a beehive. How long have you been keeping bees? Is it very tricky?

  2. Hi,
    I was gven this hive, and have only had them sin ce halloween, so I am no expert yet.
    If you are interested in keeping bees, I really recommend you find out someone near you who keeps them and arrange a visit with them to learn more. Beekeeping is not for everyone. (then again, neither is chicken keeping.) ;) Nothing takes the place of visiting a real beekeeper though. Good luck!

  3. Thanks! I will. I
    hope you have a new queen bee in your hive soon...if she is not there already.