Queens packed for posting

Whenever a new queen is introduced to an existing colony, there is always a chance your worker bees will not accept her, and the result of this could be the death of your new queen – no matter which method of introduction you use.

The main things you need to be sure of when introducing a new queen, whether it be into a full colony or nucleus, is that you do not have a virgin queen or indeed a mated queen that has simply gone off lay in your colony. You need to ensure you have removed all queen cells or queen cups, shake the bees off the frames if necessary to find the queen cells they hide in the edges of the frames. Also ensure you do not have laying workers in your hive.

Queen transporting/introduction cages

If you are re-queening an aggressive colony or a very big colony there are additional things you can do as mentioned below to increase the chances of acceptance.

Your new queen bee will arrive in a plastic queen cage with a few workers and a plug of candy. If you decide you want remove the workers from the cage make sure you do this near a closed window; all the bees will fly to the window so if you accidently let the queen out you can simply put the cage back over the queen and gently slide the cover back into place.

A queen with her attendants in a transport/introduction cage

As soon as you receive the queens, put a drop of water on the ventilation holes of the cage so the workers can use it to rehydrate, and to help dissolve the candy to feed themselves and the queen. Repeat a couple of times every day the cage is not in the hive.

The caged queen can survive several days outside the hive, but the sooner she is introduced the better. Keep the cage in a dark place away from breezes and at room temperature. It’s not uncommon for one or more of the worker bee attendants to have died, this is not a problem.

We recommend introducing the queen bees into new colonies as soon as possible.

Ideally, the hive should be queenless for at least 24 hours prior to introduction. You must take care to remove all the queen cells the bees may have made. When the bees realise they have no chance of making their own queen, they will gladly accept the new queen.

The transport/introduction cage provides food (white sugar candy) during shipment, which also acts as a “timed release” barrier for your hive bees to eat through, allowing several days pheromone adjustment period.

The queen cage, with the candy sealed in, should then be put between two frames of brood. Depending on your top bar width the cage may nestle in between the frames nicely or you may need to suspend it using a cocktail stick. If you are requeening a queenless colony that has no brood, put the cage between the two middle frames that are occupied by bees.

A queen cage trapped between the top bar of the frames

After a couple of days, open your hive using minimum smoke and quickly but gently remove the sealing tab, or tape, on the queen cage to expose the candy. This will allow the bees access to the candy plug; please note that if you have delayed the queen being released for a few days the bees may well have eaten through the candy so be careful as the queen may come straight out. If this does happen very quickly and gently put the cage in the top bars so she can move straight down through the frames. If there is still candy to eat through put the cage back where it was and close the up the hive again. If there is still candy in the cage the bees would normally eat through it within a couple of days.

A queen cage with tape over the candy plug to delay release of the queen

After placing the queen cage into your hive reassemble it and leave alone. The worker bees will get used to the smell (pheromones) of the new queen. You can check for results in around 10 days, you don’t have to find the queen, the presence of eggs is enough to confirm she is there.

Push-in Cage

A second queen introduction method, with a higher success rate, is by using a “push-in” cage to give the queen the opportunity to lay immediately.

However this method requires handling the queen, which some people may not be comfortable doing. Push-in cages are particularly useful in re-queening aggressive hives, large colonies, or introducing a queen of a different race.

A plastic push-in cage

Select an area containing soon to emerge brood, empty cells and honey cells, brush the bees off the comb and place the cage on the comb, take care not to let any bees inside. Remove the queen from the candy cage and put the her under the cage. Push the cage into the comb about a quarter of an inch allowing the queen to move freely underneath. Be sure the hive bees can’t get under the cage.

A home made push-in cage

The bees hatching inside the cage will be the only ones who will come in contact with the queen. As the young bees emerge they will immediately accept the queen as they know no difference, and they will now protect and feed her. After plenty of young bees have emerged, which may take a few days, the cap (if used) can be removed so that the queen can escape in her own time. Be sure not to do this too early. Remove the push-in cage after four days, or after the bees are no longer clinging to the cage. If the bees are clinging to the cage it means they have not accepted her yet, and more time is needed before the cage is removed.

The colony should be disturbed as little as possible for the next two weeks, while the queen establishes her brood nest.

A Quintrex push-in cage from E.H Thorne in the UK

I like the Quintrex push-in cage sold by E.H Thorne in the UK. Made from expanded metal, this cage is designed to introduce a queen over sealed brood. The cage has sharp edges which are necessary to secure the cage onto the comb. It is very strong and can be sterilized in boiling water if using on different hives.

There are two holes covered with swivel gates: one is for introducing the queen and the other is for placing fondant in the feed tunnel. This makes placing the queen into the cage easy, as it can be done via the ‘trap door’ and the gate over the candy tunnel means it can be used as a ‘delayed release’ cage if needed.

Very important:
When introducing a queen from a different race, initially the bees may accept her, but after she starts to lay, the bees may to try to supersede her, even though she is performing well. It is prudent to check periodically for the existence of queen cells and remove them until the old bees have been completely replaced by the bees of the new queen – approx. 6 – 8 weeks.

If you follow the steps above, you have a better than good chance of your new queen being accepted by the colony.

3 thoughts on “Introducing Queens

  1. Excellent article. Rearing my own queens via grafting this year. You don’t know what you don’t know. I was not called to graft queens but I am thankful I did because I learned so much. Thanks for your article.

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