Beginner’s FAQ: How to Introduce a Mated Queen

The time has come for an amazing demand for mated queens, it happens every year and we’re always put under a tremendous amount of pressure when our wonderful queens come to be checked before going out to our customers all over the nation.

Now, in our own time as beekeepers and selling queens to fellow beekeepers we’ve gathered some interesting stories of how some inexperienced beekeepers have attempted to introduce their queens, therefore we’re going to show you (with photos!). Honestly, if you don’t laugh about these tales you might just burst into tears.

First thing before ordering a mated queen is to be sure that your colony is actually queenless (or you may be ordering a queen to make splits or requeen), read our blog post https://beckybees.blog/2020/02/26/beginners-faq-my-colony-is-queenless/ to make absolutely sure that you need this queen!

Are you really queenless?

Second thing you need to know is that queen introduction methods are NOT GUARANTEED. There are many ways that you can increase the chance of acceptance, but sometimes the colony just want to make a new queen, so a broodless colony may even let the new queen lay only to cull her and raise a new one of their own.

When you receive your queen she always comes in some sort of cage. We have had a number of calls before about how the queen is sent, she is caged and then sent to you in an envelope with holes punched into it. Yes, we have had customers ask us not to put the queen loose in the envelope!!!

Our envelopes

The cages you can see are common amongst our breeders, and all are sealed with plastic aside from what we colloquially call the lollipop cage (far left) which has the fondant exposed. Use your hive tool to snap open the seal, but be careful as you could accidentally remove the cover. Always check to remove the seal if you are not intending to do a delayed release so that the queen can be let out of the cage without your intervention.

Queen cages
An easy mistake if you’re too forceful

The rectangular cages have a little hook that you are able to thread through a toothpick and hang the cage between the frames. HOWEVER we do not recommend that you do this because there is the possibility that the attendants in the cage could die and block the access to the fondant within the cage.

You may look at your caged queen and remark at how small she may be, this often happens when queens are removed from a colony and begin slimming down as they are not fed at the constant rate as when she is in a hive. The same occurs prior to swarming and therefore you must realise that your mated queen may well have regained the ability to fly! We once had a customer in tears who tried to introduce the queen outside and had opened to cage to take her out only to watch her fly away. All queens are harvested when they are on sealed brood and therefore demonstrated their laying ability.

Caged queens may appear a lot smaller than when you see one in a colony and it may take a while for them to plump up again.

Some beekeepers like to remove the attendant workers prior to introducing their queen to their hive, the theory behind this is that the attendants will clash with the other workers and will cause the hive to reject the queen. If you do want to do this, make sure you are in a closed room, by a window and carefully remove the attendants. All the bees should attempt the escape through the window, and this is just a precaution in case your queen happens to get out too, just carefully pick her up by the thorax and reintroduce her to the empty cage.

If you’re scared to pick the queen up, then partially remove the cover and place over your queen when she is crawling on the window, then carefully slide the cover back into place.

Now that you are ready to introduce your queen, go through the hive and ensure that you remove all queen cells and cups. When we introduce a queen, we tend to put her where the majority of your brood is (and therefore your nurse bees). Nestle the cage sideways between the frames tightly.

Be careful not to squish any bees!

The queenless colony should rush towards her and show a healthy interest in her presence. You may see the workers attempting to feed her and in turn spread her pheromones. If your bees start balling the cage you may have another queen present in the colony and you must give your colony another thorough check.

Healthy interest in the new queen

If you’re really stumped about the difference because a lot of bees can get interested in the queen, then the most definitive test for me is how easily you can remove the bees from the cage by running your finger over the cage to move the bees. If they’re really difficult to remove they are probably attempting to sting the queen through the cage very similarly to how it is a little difficult to remove a bee trying to sting you through your veil! We took a photo of the cage balling to demonstrate but it can often look a lot worse, we just chose to remove the queen before she could actually be harmed.

‘Cage balling’ – note the curved abdomens of the workers attempting to sting

It is a very sensitive time when introducing the queen, therefore we do like to wait around 10 days before checking the colony again to see if your queen is successfully taken. Also, when you do your next check it is best to just look for evidence of her existence, such as eggs instead of disturbing the colony too much. If you can’t see eggs then you may attempt to spot your new queen before leaving the bees to it.

If you are buying a queen for a split or for a requeening you must wait to receive the queen prior to doing any manipulations. In very rare circumstances your queen may get lost in the post or is dead upon arrival, therefore it is always safer to wait for your queen.

When you store your waiting queen you can keep her sealed in the envelope that she arrives in, firstly check there is enough fondant too. It is best to keep her in the dark and an ambient temperature, away from the sun or any other heat sources.

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