High Drama and the Virgin Queen Piping

18 Apr

My little bee brain is buzzing with information overload.

Today’s hive inspections brought plenty of good news but also a wild cornucopia of new bee experiences. I think I need a drink.

Alex opening the Ann Hive

Alex opening the Ann Hive

But first, here’s what went down:

  • We found queens and eggs in the Ann Hive and the Polski hive. Yay!
  • At least 10 capped swarm cells awaited us in the Kerry Hive.
  • It was impossible not to hear the high-pitched squawk of a virgin queen in the Kerry Hive which we tracked down and photographed. 
  • We removed 7 bars of brood and resources from the Kerry Hive and gave some queen cells to a local beekeeper in need.
  • The extra swarm cells we dissected.
  • Opening some drone cells, we found varroa mites on drone pupae.
  • We saw a birthing bee.

Photos and details follow. Whew! Who knew one afternoon in the life of a beekeeper could be so fascinating.

Finding the Queen

Eight days ago, we installed two new packages from B. Weaver into the Ann Hive and the Polski Hive.  After three days, we checked and the queen was free but we were unable to find her or any fresh eggs.  

Had the saucy dames killed their queens?

Worry and doubt set in. Four cold and rainy days made us downright gloomy about the prospects of our fledgling colonies. But when we checked the hives this afternoon, we saw both queen (in the Polski Hive) and eggs (in both Polski and Ann Hives).  

Beekeeper bliss! Now we’re in business.

Queen of the Polski Hive

Queen of the Polski Hive, white dot nearly removed by workers

Arrows indicate freshly-lain eggs

Arrows indicate freshly-lain eggs in the Ann Hive

Whew! Now, with a little luck and nectar, we might have a go at 2 new colonies.

Swarm Cell Jackpot

I’ve never played the lottery, but today we won a quite questionable jackpot.

The Kerry Hive had 8 capped swarm cells and 2 capped supercedure cells. Bonus! Our hive is busting at the seams with potential queens.

Queen cup (left) and capped supercedure cell (right)

Queen cup (left) and capped supercedure cell (right)

Bad news, though. This means they’re cramped and about to swarm. We performed immediate surgery and did the following:

  • Gave 2 bars of brood with queen cells to Sheila, a queenless beekeeper down in the North Valley
  • Pulled 1 bar of brood for the Ann Hive
  • Pulled 3 bars of resources for both Ann & Polski Hives
  • Harvested 1 bar of honey and brood (we dissected the brood and swarm cells. More on that in a few…)

Time will tell if our drastic last-minute measures work. Regardless, it was only part of our Saturday afternoon drama…

The Virgin Queen Piping

About 3 bars into the Kerry Hive, we heard a high-pitched squawking. Like pulses of meep-meep-meep emanating from a pair of vibrating bee wings.

It was a virgin queen.

She looked like a queen. She sounded like a queen. But something wasn’t quite right.

Her abdomen wasn’t quite long enough… She had no attendees… And, oddly, she was dipping her ovipositor into honey cells at the top of the comb.

A virgin queen in the Kerry Hive

A virgin queen in the Kerry Hive

Should we have killed her, this brazen threat to the ruling queen? We’re not sure, but the hive contained plenty of eggs, larvae, and capped worker brood. Someone is doing their job inside the Kerry Hive which means there are likely two queens now, one inseminated and one loud and squawking.

Someone will emerge the victress.

The Dissection

One of the bars we pulled from the Kerry Hive contained 3 swarm cells and plenty of useless drone brood. Having spotted a few varroa mites last week, we decided to pull this bar and conduct some good old-fashioned learning.

Here’s what we saw…


Queen larva, head in a pool of royal jelly

Queen bee larva, head in a pool of royal jelly


Queen bee pupa

Queen bee pupa


Drone bee pupae

Drone bee pupae


Drone bee pupa, with varroa mite on its hind leg

Drone bee pupa, with varroa mite on its hind leg

In less grotesque news, we also witnessed the hatching of a fuzzy new worker bee which we carried gently to the hive. It waddled into the safety of the dark and humming chamber to begin a new life in our corner of Albuquerque.


Baby worker bee hatching. (White powder is confectioner's sugar we dusted on the comb.)

Baby worker bee hatching. (White powder is confectioner's sugar we dusted on the comb.)


9 Responses to “High Drama and the Virgin Queen Piping”

  1. Jim Stovall April 19, 2009 at 3:14 am #

    Thanks very much for this post, and especially the pictures. They’re excellent.

    Getting a queen accepted into a hive always worrisome.

    I linked to this post on my blog: http://honeydotcomb.blogspot.com.

    I’m also putting this on http://beeprof.com.

    All the best.

    Jim Stovall

  2. mistress beek April 19, 2009 at 10:04 am #

    Hi Jim, thanks for stopping by! And also for kind words and linkage.

    Glad to hear both of your new queens were accepted. Here’s to a healthy and productive summer!

  3. Backyard Bee April 19, 2009 at 9:40 pm #

    Very nice pictures! as usual. Just started keeping bees in a TBH, so your blog is awesome.

    How can you tell the difference b/n a swarm cell and a supercedure cell?

  4. mistress beek April 20, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    For some reason, the Kerry Hive contained both swarm and supercedure cells.

    – Swarm cells are found on the sides, edges, or bottoms of the comb.
    – Supercedure cells are found in the middle of a comb.

    I’ll see if I can post a couple photos illustrating the difference.

    Thanks for saying hi! BTW, where do you keep your TBH?

  5. Backyard Bee April 20, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    I’m in CO. We started last year with a swarm, but had to re-start this year. Thanks to your video of installing a package, I felt very prepared when I restocked our hive.

  6. LindyLambChopsNZ October 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    So pleased to find your Blog what excellent photos. I am very new to bee keeping. Husband just built two Top Bar Hives for the garden. We found a swarm of bees & think we are on our way! Am trying to find as much information on this type of bee keeping as possible. So thank you very much for your Blog.

    Bee Happy!

  7. Donna Steen November 2, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I’m a new beekeeper in need of a camera. Your pictures are great. What kind of camera and lens are you using. Also do you also take movies? What do you recommend there?

    • mistress beek November 4, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Hi Donna, congrats on your new bees! I don’t use anything special — an old Canon PowerShot TX1. The key is to ensure you have a super macro mode so you can get up close and personal with your hive.


  1. The queen bee is piping in the hive – Westphoria | A blog by Sunset - May 11, 2012

    […] It’s definitely bee season. We’ve got two packages of bees arriving next week. While waiting, I’ve been enjoying the blog of Mistress Beek in Albuquerque. I love this post, entitled High Drama and the Virgin Queen Piping. […]

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