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 are ready for sending 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 really queenless (or you may be ordering a queen to make splits or requeen), read our blog post 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.

Your queen will be posted to you in a cage which has a section full of fondant. She will also have attendant worker bees with her. She will either arrive in an envelope with holes punched into it or in a cardboard wrap, there will be a sticker on the outside to let the postman know the package contains live Queen Bees.

The part of the cage that holds the fondant has a tab that needs to be removed to expose the fondant so that your bees in your colony can eat through it which will allow the queen to exit the cage. Use your hive tool to snap/remove this seal, be careful that you don’t accidentally remove the top cover. If you are planning on doing a delayed release leave the seal in place but remember to go back and remove it!

An easy mistake if you’re too forceful

The rectangular cages have a little hook at the top which would suggest 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 if the attendants in the cage could die they may block the access to the fondant within the cage. The best thing to do is nestle the cage lengthways between the top bars of the two middle frames. See picture further down in the blog.

You may look at your caged queen and think the queen looks smaller than you were expecting, and she may be. This is because when queens are removed from a colony, she will begin to slim down due not being 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 also 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 they have demonstrated their laying ability to of laying fertile eggs.

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. If you have not already done so you will need to remove the tab (if the cage has one) to expose the fondant the bees in your hive. Some beekeepers do like the put the queen cage in with the tab sealed for a 24 to 48 hours before they remove the tab, this delays the queen being released and this is down the personal preference. We don’t like to disturb our bees again once we put the queen cage in so we remove the tab straight away. When we introduce a queen, we put the cage where most of the brood is (and therefore your nurse bees). Nestle the cage sideways between the frames tightly just as we have shown in the picture below.

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. Remember that virgin queens move quickly, they may be smaller and they won’t be marked.

Healthy interest in the new queen

If you’re really stumped as to the difference, between healthy interest and balling, because a lot of bees can get interested in the new queen, then the most definitive test for me is to see how easily I can remove the bees from the cage by running my finger over the cage to move the bees. If they’re difficult to remove they are probably attempting to sting the queen through the cage. This is very similar to how difficult it is to remove a bee 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. Bees balling a caged queen also turn their tails in. If the bees are just genuinely interested in the new queen they will be easy to brush off the cage.

‘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 interfere too much to early this can cause the bees to reject the new queen, even if she has started laying.

If you are buying a queen for a split or for a re-queening we recommend that you wait until you have received the new 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.

If you do need to keep your queen for a day before you put her into the hive, we recommend storing the caged queen in the packaging she arrives in. Firstly, check there is still enough fondant and that the attendants are alive, and them place the cage back in the packaging so they are in the dark. Keep them in an ambient temperature away from the sun or any other heat sources. Don’t keep them somewhere where they are likely to get cold; we have had quite a number of occasions where customer have received their queens and put them in cold conditions only to return hours or a day later and find the bees not moving and immediately think they are dead. Cold bees fall into a state similar to a coma, move them somewhere warm and they wake up again 🙂

I hope you have found this blog useful.

4 thoughts on “Beginner’s FAQ: How to Introduce a Mated Queen”

    1. Hi Keith
      Apologies for the delay in replying! Sian was looking after the blog but as she has now left I have picked it up again and I found your message. We do mention the tab in the paragraph after the photo of the white envelope however I do think we can mention it again in the paragraph when we talk about locating the queen cage.
      I hope you are looking forward to forth coming season.
      Take care


  1. Hello, my hive had no brood whatsoever at any stage, they must have been queenless for approx 10 days. I put the new queen in today, what are my chances for success?


    1. Hello Laura

      If your colony was indeed queenless then there is a good chance they will accept the new mated queen however if you had virgin in your colony then they will kill her.
      Bees do not normally leave them selves queenless, they will if they swarm, leave queen cells and unless you have removed all queen cells from the colony and left them no way of making more then they most likely do have a virgin running around. When a colony swarms you will always have a period when you have no brood whatsoever in the hive. There are indicators to look out for that would suggest you have a queen, albeit a virgin, these are:
      – Are your bees still bringing in pollen to the colony
      – Is the bees behavior as it normally is, do the bees look like they have purpose on the frame
      – Just before the new queen comes in to lay the bees will move honey stores out of the middle cells on the middle frames and polish them up ready for the newly mated queen to lay in.

      I hope that helps.
      Best wishes


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