Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dead queens

Dead queens are good and bad.
We've had issues with yellow jackets buzzing too close to us in our driveway. We have a pine tree that attracts pine scale (a sap sucking insect). The scale exudes honeydew that the yellow jacket adore. I've gotten stung waving my hands at them trying to shoo them away from me when getting into my truck. This is the second year in a row that I have baited traps for yellow jackets in the early spring.
The theory goes that all of them are queens in the early spring. Only the queen Western Yellow Jackets over winter, all the rest of the castes (drones and workers) die the previous fall.
Here are five dead queens. They are all larger than the workers that come later in the season.

By eliminating the queens in the early season I can stop them from each forming colonies that develop into dozens or hundreds of yellow jackets. That is what I call "good" dead queens.
Now for the "bad".
I have been keeping honey bees and decided to increase my number of colonies. The bees actually do the deciding. When "they" decide to increase the number of colonies it is called swarming. This happens in the spring when there is plenty of forage (flowers) for both the mother colony and for the swarm that leaves the mother colony. The swarm is comprised of the queen and approximately half of the workers in the "mother" hive. Prior to leaving the the queen (and workers) start a new queen. She is laid just like a worker bee, as a fertilized egg but is fed an enriched diet of royal jelly. The workers create an enlarged cell for the queens to develop in. They are larger than the worker bees thus need the larger cell to develop correctly. Here is a picture of a queen cell (on the right), it is said these cells look like peanuts. The queen is pupating inside.

Here is a close up of queen cells. These are formed usually in the spring and an indication of the possibility of impending swarming.

Sorry for the rotation on the images, queen cells always face downward. The two queen cups are the starts of enlarged cells. There is also a couple of bees in the shot with groovy colored pollen (red and light yellow).
Both of these queen cells were empty (no egg).
There can be only one queen bee in a hive. I opened my new nuc, (short for nucleus hive) and saw 5 queen cells fully capped.
The first queen to hatch destroys the other queens while they are still in their cells. The problem with this is that only one survives and in my case that was a queen with a malformed wing. The issue is that queens fly off to mate in the week after emerging from their cells (and after killing any rivals). With a malformed wing this queen will never mate and therefore will never lay fertilized eggs.
Here she is:
 See the drone with the big eyes at 3 o'clock.
Here is a closeup of the queen.

You can see one of her left wings is shriveled or chewed. I did what I had to and pinched her dead! Within a minute I could tell the whole nuc hive knew because their tone changed from a calm hum to a load buzz!
It takes several weeks for a freshly laid egg to develop into a queen bee. Killing a queen without a ready replacement sets back any new egg laying by about a month. Since all the eggs in this hive came from my other hives and since they are all past the point where the workers could change those larvae's diet to one of 100% royal jelly, I had to transfer some freshly laid eggs from one of the other hives so that this hive could start from scratch. So I will wait for the new batch of queens to emerge and do battle.
Eggs were placed into this hive on April 26th. I peaked in on May 3rd and saw they had drawn out and capped 3 or more queen cells. The worker bees probably selected eggs that had just turned into larvae (day 4 after being laid as eggs). This means that the new queens should emerge today or tomorrow (16-17 days after being laid). This might make a neat video, a true battle royal! It will take a couple more days before the new queen goes on her mating flights assuming the winner survives the melee.
Here's a shot of one of the main sources of food for the bees has been for the past few weeks.

This picture was taken 4/20. The apple bloom is past its peak as of today. Approximately two weeks prior to the apples, the crab apples were really strong as well. That made for four weeks of solid prolific food for the bees. This time of year there is lots of food for the bees. We do have some possible freezing weather in a couple of days, but fingers crossed, it wont kill any of the blossoms.

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