Monday, April 16, 2012

Long Live the Queen!

Earlier in March, it was still too cold to open the hives and check out what was going on.  We just hadn't hit that magic 60F mark where you can safely open the hive without chilling the new brood inside.  But what maintenance I was able to do was to remove some of the winter dead from the hives.

There are always bees living their lives and eventually dying in the hives.  Bees are very tidy little things and they will remove any dead bees that accumulate at the bottom of the hive by either pushing them out or carrying the corpses away from the hive and dropping them in mid flight.  Kind of an aerial burial.

In the winter months the bees maintain a "winter cluster" so they can keep themselves and the queen warm enough to survive the cold.  Since it can be life or death for a bee to leave this cluster just to remove a fallen sister from the bottom of the hive, this time of year the bees let the dead accumulate at the bottom of the hive.  This isn't often a problem unless so many dead bees pile up that their bodies block of entrance of hive which impede good air circulation and hive-bound bees.

Like I mentioned before, I did come out in early March to remove some of these dead bees from my two hives.  I just use a straight, skinny stick between a quarter and half inch for this job.  It is shoved into the hive and sweeps out the dead bees as you remove it at an angle.  Kind of like removing a tennis ball from under your bed with a broom handle:  You'd put the stick in straight and then pivot the stick on the way out to "plow" the ball out.

Now I was doing this on the hive that was started in Spring of 2010 from a package of Carniolan bees.  While I was scooping out the dead bees which I was expecting to be all workers, out comes a dead, unmarked Carniolan queen.  She was recently dead because she wasn't dried up like many of the workers and all I could think was "Oh no!!!".  

When I bought my package of bees in 2010, it came with a marked queen.  She had a little royal blue dot painted on he thorax which made her not only easier to spot but also the color shows the year she was hatched.  Blue is for years ending in "0" and their is a standard color for each year so beekeepers can know how old their queen is.  I guess this can be hard to keep track if you have many hives.  The dead queen that I removed was not marked so it was produced in the hive at some point unlike my "store bought" queen.

To thicken the plot I need to add that all of last season (2011) I never spotted my original marked queen.  The hive had produced many swarm cells, even after I made a split from it and I assumed that she had possibly either swarmed at one point or was killed and replace by a new queen which the colony had made.  So, seeing this dead queen made me think that this was "the" queen and I was going into spring with a queenless hive.

Now a week ago when I reversed the hive, I noticed brood right off and breathed a sigh of relief that there was indeed a queen in there.  Upon further investigation I found my original marked queen that I hadn't seen since 2010!  I couldn't believe it!

So, what does this all mean?  The dead queen is the daughter of old "Blue Dot" but how long had she been in the hive?   Did she emerge in the fall or during the early spring?  Did she duke it out with her mom in a fight to the death or did the workers kill her?  Any light shed on this topic would be greatly appreciated so if you have any ideas let me know.

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