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Back to the Basics

Beekeepers are constantly performing routine hive inspections to find eggs or the queen. Finding eggs is a great sign that your queen is present and is laying. Have you ever stopped to consider what that egg will develop into? Will it become a worker, a drone, or is it to replace the queen?

The cell that the eggs are developed in defines what type of bee will emerge. A worker bee will reside in a cell that measures about 5.4 mm wide, a drone in a cell that measures about 6.6 mm, and the queen’s vertical cell can measure 9 mm in width and can be 25 mm in length (measurements are based off of embedded foundation pattern or cup size). What happens if a cell needs to be converted into a queen cell? Will the bees be able to adjust the cell after the egg has been laid?

The egg can be raised out as a queen if its diet remains royal jelly. A worker-to-be’s diet will transition into honey and pollen after day three until it is capped over. An egg intended to be queen will remain on the royal jelly diet, allowing the reproductive organs and the pheromone producing glands to develop. Wax builders will develop an emergency supercedure cell that extends outside the frame cells. This will be accomplished in emergency situations when something unexpected and tragic happened to the existing queen.

Here are two other examples when you may find queen cells in your hive:

The normal aging of a queen can trigger queen replacement. As the queen continues to age, her fertilization will become depleted and she will lay more and more drones. The colony recognizes the decrease and will shape multiple supercedure cells. The new queen will emerge and both the mother and daughter will continue to lay until the mother expires, leaving the daughter as the sole leader. * Supercedure cells are centrally located and are limited in number.

The colony is crowded with adult bees and more will soon emerge. When space becomes unavailable your colony has the tendency to swarm. This is a natural process that allows your colony to reproduce. The existing queen will leave the hive with the majority of the adult population and the remaining hive is left with swarm cells to produce a new queen. *Clusters of swarm cells will be located along the bottom of the frame.

Once a virgin queen emerges, she will eliminate any additional queen cells; go on a mating flight; and return to perform her queen duties. Drones will remain in the hive through spring and summer until they are no longer needed in the fall. Workers will continue foraging, nursing, and building the hive. Each member has a definite task to perform for the survival of the colony.