May 29, 2015

Delusions of grandeur (aka - A laying worker)

A queen bee and a worker bee are identical genetically. The difference between them is that a queen has been fed royal jelly by the worker bees since she was an egg, which allows her sexual organs to mature. Eventually, after being fed this royal jelly as an egg and larva, she emerges from her queen cell and goes on a virgin flight, and mates with up to 20 times with 20 drones. (Whose phalluses are ripped from their bodies in the act. It's what you get for being a complete drain on the hive, I suppose.)

However, once in a while, a worker bee has delusions of grandeur, and feels she's the queen. In her rise to power, she kills the queen and begins to lay her own eggs. The problem, is that she is sexually immature and unfertilized, and so only lays drones (males). Since worker bees do all the work, and the drones just hang out in a tree waiting for a virgin queen to emerge, they aren't very useful when they are the only ones being produced. (You only need 1 drone per 100ish workers.)

When you don't spot a queen, it's not always a big deal, and you just look for eggs. I hadn't seen eggs on previous visits, so suspected a problem. So when I finally spotted multiple eggs (those little grains of rice looking things) being laid in each cell, I knew it was either a poor queen or a laying worker. (A good queen lays one per cell.)

When I looked further and saw there were frames of only drones (They aren't flat, but raised bumps to account for their large eyes which help them spot the virgin queen on her flight and 'get it right' if you will), it was clear. The queen was not alive, and a worker had taken it upon herself to become the "B" hive's Anne Boelyn.

While I'd heard of this problem, I hadn't experienced it firsthand. Plus, like most things with this hobby, much of what I'd read was contradictory. So I went to the message boards and asked the beekeepers whose knowledge I trust. So the process went like this:
  1. Order a new queen
  2. Grandma texts to tell you she's here
  3. Take the day off and drive north
  4. Open the hive and take the frames 50 yards away from the hives and shake all of the bees off
  5. Install new frames instead of the multiple egg or drone-laden ones
  6. Hang the new queen in the hive and make sure she can't get out for several days to delay the process as long as possible so the hive accepts her pheromones as the real queen
  7. Let the worker bees fly back to their hive, leaving the laying worker who thinks she's queen (and so therefore does not fly back to the hive), behind
  8. Pray they'll accept the new queen bee, Beyonce
  9. Long live Beyonce. After all, #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat

Just one more learning experience in this world of beekeeping.

In other news, I saw Caroline. Her hive was a bit slow, but brood is capped, and eggs are laid across 3 full frames. So all is moving along, albeit a bit slowly. Abigail's hive is going cray-cray crazy. The second brood box is almost full. She's a spunky one!

And while I should probably go back in a few days to check on Beyonce, I'm going to leave them all for 2 weeks. I've decided I'm going with less intervention this year to see if it changes anything.

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