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Induced or Forced Supersedure In Honey Bees

Methods by which the bees may be encouraged or induced into producing a replacement queen without swarming.

Much of this text has been written by my friend Ken Hoare, the illustrations and layout can be blamed on me.

The most sure-fire method of requeening a colony is to find the old queen and cull her. Then a nucleus or full-size colony with a mated and laying queen can easily be united, with a 99.9% chance of success.

But there will be times when a colony needs re-queening and it proves difficult to find the old queen. There could be several reasons, most likely inexperience of the beekeeper, aggressive nature of the bees, the number of bees present within a brood box or possibly multiple brood boxes.

Recent posts on the Irish bee list discussion group has suggested a system known as 'Virgin Drop' could re-queen a colony without the need to find the old queen. In the simplest of terms a colony is heavily smoked at the entrance and a virgin queen which has had no contact with other bees, i.e. a queen 'pulled' from a cell, or a queen raised in an incubator, is dropped into the top of the hive. This is a system practised in New Zealand and the Americas with, I understand, a good success rate. A commercial beekeeper in the United Kingdom has stated he didn't experience the same, in fact, he had high losses when using virgin drop. So possibly the strain of bee can influence the outcome, the lighter strains being easier to introduce. The loss of introduced queens might be acceptable to some commercial beekeepers (time is money syndrome and in New Zealand and America virgin queens are easily and cheaply available), but generally the UK hobbyist beekeeper will be unhappy to tolerate any loss of introduced queens.

As long ago as 1992, the Devon Apicultural Research Group members decided to test Induced Supersedure and generally the results were very favourable.

I have already mentioned, and believe it is common knowledge, that before introducing a new queen into a colony it is necessary to find the old queen and remove her. Otherwise, any introduced mated or virgin queen will be destroyed. An unprotected queen cell placed into a hive where a queen is present will normally be destroyed by one side of the cell being broken down. But if this cell is protected, there is a good chance of successful introduction, both original and new queen will be present and one will be killed or starved, but eventually ejected from the hive, which are the natural supersedure instinct of the honey bee.

Unless the original queen is marked, it will be impossible to discover if the new queen from the cell has been accepted in favour of the original queen, well nigh impossible, other than a noticeable change of colour of later workers. Consequently, in order to prove the success of the method to yourself, I recommend every effort is made to find and mark the old queen.

The method of inducing supersedure is simple. Cells can be from many sources, swarm cells, cells from grafted larva, cells produced using a Jenter type cage, all can satisfactorily be used. If possible, the tip of the cell should be 'bronzed' (as the one illustrated at right indicates "bronzing"), meaning that it is maybe one to three days away from emergence. I cannot emphasise enough the necessity of treating these cells gently and keeping them upright. Laying them on their sides at this stage can result in a damaged queen. It should not be difficult to bore suitable size holes into a block of polystyrene or florists 'Oasis' block into which the cells can be held upright, pending introduction into a hive.

  queencell with tip 'bronzed'

The sides of the queen cell must be protected, otherwise, as previously stated, it is likely they will be torn down. Protection can be as simple as aluminium kitchen foil wrapped around the sides of the cell, or possibly cone shapes can be cut from the neck of, say, shampoo bottles, or purpose-made 'cell protectors' are available from the appliance dealers. These exist in many types, the commonest is made from spiral wound wire (as right), with a plate at the top, which prevents access to the cell from the top end and a short length of the wire which easily pushes into the comb to fix it in position.

  Spiral wire queencell protector

In use, the protected cell is fixed into the face of a brood comb, the central area of the comb is best. In the United Kingdom, probably most of the Northern Hemisphere, July will be the best month to introduce protected cells, as this will be about the time that normal supersedure's take place. Having introduce the protected cell into the colony, the hive is closed and left for about one month. By this time the new queen, if she has been accepted, will be mated and laying and the old queen is unlikely to be present.

The success rate of the method is greatly increased if the queen to be replaced is in at least her second season.

But if the system has failed, I always think the 'angry' stocks are the most difficult to re queen, well nothing will be lost. The original queen will still be present and you will be left to discover an alternative way of requeening.

Ken Hoare

Ken has written the above from a knowledge base that has a Southern England bias... I would further comment that the timings can be about a fortnight later if you are North of Northampton and that in these more northerly areas it is quite common for a period of side by side laying of the old and new queens.

Failure rates given above are not actually as bad as pure numbers may suggest. There may well be defects in the virgin that only the bees are capable of properly determining. In these cases the original queen will be retained by the bees and so although the result is "a failure" from the point of view of requeening, it is actually to the bees advantage (and thus the beekeeper's as well).

As a result of wide differences in percentages for effectiveness, reported from different parts of the world, Ken has suggested a trial that can easily be instigated by hobby beekeepers.

Dave Cushman.

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