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When will my new queen start to lay?

When a virgin queen has emerged from her queencell it takes a while for her to mature before she can fly. Then she needs to mate in good weather and only after that will she start to lay...

Patience is a virtue

Remember that the time from from laid egg to emerged queen is 16 days. (8 days open and 8 days sealed). It takes another 5 - 6 days before she is ready for mating flights. She then needs good weather. It seems to be generally accepted that a temperature of over 18 or 19 degrees is required before the queen will go out on her nuptual flights. (Some strains will mate in cooler weather but don't rely on it). The queen will pop out on a number of occasions to mate - between around 10:00 hrs and 16:00 hrs and it is during this time you should not be inspecting the hives if you can avoid it and certainly not be looking at hives where there are virgins present. In the height of summer I have seen entrance activity indicating that queens can be out until about 18:30 hrs. You may see her bees around the entrance of the hive fanning with their nasnov glands as a marker to enable her to find her way back more easily. (There's a lot of activity outside the hive for a few minutes then the activity dies away again). However if you are bumbling around her hive she may get confused by different visual clues and get lost. On occasions the queen will leave with an entourage of bees - a mating swarm. Once mated it takes a minimum of two days before she starts to lay eggs - often more in a large colony.
Queen on comb.

The quickest mating I've seen is about 8 days from emergence to laying although this is unusual for me as the weather in my part of the world is not that good! The average is between two and three weeks. Certainly you should not be too worried until you have been waiting for 3 weeks; by 4 weeks it's really getting too late - the queen will be poorly mated and could be superceded quite soon or if not mated at all, will become a drone layer.

It's very common for new beekeepers to be worried that they have lost their queen and they are frantically  trying to buy a new one from somewhere - anywhere - or they are begging a test frame to be put in (see below)  and then the hive is opened and there's eggs in the comb after all. Most queens do come good.





Test for queenlessness.

1) A test frame is used to confirm quenlessness. If there is believed to be no queen present in a hive, a test frame with eggs and small larvae but no (or few) adhering bees can be placed in the hive; It will have queencells started if no queen is present - check after a couple of days. If no queencells are produced, then a queen is present in the hive. (The donor frame with no queencells can always be returned if the other colony is weak). [This is a good reason why owning two colonies is sensible as you can check what's going on in one hive and kick-start it if it becomes queenless]. The proviso is that if laying workers are in the hive, then they won't rear queencells.

Queen Bee. Dark
2) Another check is a visual one: If there are polished and empty cells in the brood area - where you would usually expect to see brood - then that's the bees preparing the comb for egg laying. You may need the jolt the frame to remove some of the bees and then hold it to the light to see clearly. Sometimes it's easier to see an arc of stores first with empty cells below*. If there is no queen present this area will generally be filled with honey and pollen. The polished cells can extend over more than one frame and you may also see a frame being cleared of pollen next to the frame of empty cells.   *The arc of stores will not always contain much pollen - it's the brood pheromone that acts as a "feed me" request so that the workers bring in pollen and place it as close to the brood as possible - in an arc around them.


3) A less reliable test it bee behaviour. Queenless colonies can be bad tempered although this is not always the case. If a gentle colony is grumpy then they may have lost their queen.  - Compare the buzzy hum of a queenless hive to a queenright hive and you will notice a difference. Note that weather and food supply can have a marked effect on aggressiveness of the colonies so if you are desperately hoping that your single colony is producing a queen and it's in a bad mood, it might just be down to the weather (storm on the way) or a lack of forage. June is a particularly difficult month for this as there are lots of bees in our hives and the June Gap is very real in Norfolk most years where there isn't much food about.

Searching for the queen.

Virgin queens are not as big as when they are mated, after which their abdomen swells and are therefore not as easily seen as a mature queen, they can be hardly bigger than a worker. They sometimes hide and sometimes scuttle about the comb too and can fly off. So, although it is good to see her, it's not necessary and spending too long at the job may result in her leaving if she's particularly flighty. If this happens, close up the colony and walk away; chances are that she will find her way back home.

And Finally...

How to kill a queen. 

i) If you introduce a queen when there's laying workers in the hive (there's been no brood or queen for a while) the queen will be killed.
ii) Introducing a queen into a colony where there is already a queen will result in one of them being killed. And even if the queen in the hive is an un-seen virgin, it's probably her that is going to survive and your expensive bought-in queen will, sadly,  be seen on the ground outside the hive entrance later.

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