Unrest In The Kitty Hive

Five days ago we checked the hives to see if they were ready for some expansion. Olga was very ready and we added a third brood box. Kitty was about three frames behind, so we decided to expand Olga and give Kitty a few more days to build up comb.

We took a look at Kitty today, and I noticed all but one of the frames had comb drawn out. We took out a center frame to check the status of the brood and found something most troubling. Can you see it in the above photo? It's down at the bottom, towards the right...kind of looks like a peanut shell...here's a close up:

The bees have formed queen cells. Now, I'm perplexed as to what is going on. There were about six queen cells formed throughout the hive and most were formed on the bottom of the frame--off of a column of drone cells. Now, here is the deal, queen cells are formed for two reasons--swarming (when the bees run out of room, they raise a queen, divide up and swarm) or supercedure (which means the current queen is failing, injured, or dead and the workers are trying to raise a new queen to replace her).

Now, according to bee literature, swarming queen cells are on the bottom of the frames. Supercedure queen cells are formed on the center of a frame...Most of the queen cells in the Kitty hive were on the bottom, but I did find two that were on the frame towards the center. I could find no eggs, but if the hive is about to go into swarm mode, the queen would have stopped laying eggs. However, it's been weeks since I've seen the Kitty queen. Is she dead? did she get injured or killed when we checked the box five days ago? Now, what do I do? Should I buy a new queen to introduce to the hive?

Check out this frame laden with capped over honey and a small patch of brood. From reading about queen cells in books and bee forums, the only thing that is certain with bee keeping appears to be that there are some guidelines, but really nothing is hard and fast. Sure swarming cells are usually at the bottom of a frame, but according to bee literature and bee forums--anything is possible. All of this may just be the Kitty girls feel crowded and are ready for a third brood box. I started thinking back: We checked the hive five days ago, and all seemed normal--eggs in cells and no queen cells. Today--there are about a half dozen queen cells. It takes fertilized eggs three days from when they were laid to be larvae and queen cells get capped at about seven days after being laid--these can't be more than four days old. The queens don't emerge until nine days after they have been capped. I decided to remove all the queen cells I could find and to add the third brood box and check again in a week. If there are no eggs after a week, then I'll order a new queen.

Ack, this is nerve wracking.

I ended up removing quite a few of the drone cells as I removed the queens. I felt terrible about it, but the hive needs workers to build and gather food,not males to eat honey while they bide their time to fly out looking for queens. As I removed wax, cells got exposed and you can see the larvae oozing out. I really felt bad killing the, but it needed to be done. On the upside, none of the larvae and pupae I exposed had any varroa mites--which means the overall health of the colony is good. After I scraped this chunk off, some of the drones started to emerge (above photo). I'm sure it was panic at feeling the cells being moved. As with any type of farming, you will have to kill some of your stock, but I found myself feeling more guilty about it than I had anticipated. If I'm like this with drones, I don't want to even think about my state at the end of summer in 2008 when I have to let my older colonies die off.

If anyone has advice or insights to my queen situation, please feel free to comment.

In other news, I have three new monarch chrysalises around the apartment. Two were formed about three days ago and appear to be parasite free. Whew!