3 Types of Queen Cells
(by: Welsh Beekeepers Association) There are three different types of queen cells:-
1) Swarm cells
2) Supersedure cells, and
3) Emergency cells
It is important to be able to correctly identify the three types of queen cell (see also Figures 1-3). Only the presence of swarm cells means that the colony is intent on swarming. The other two types are there for entirely different reasons and this does NOT include any intention to swarm. Supersedure and emergency queen cells do not usually require any intervention from the beekeeper – except to leave the bees strictly alone and let them get on with it. So, how do you tell the difference between the three types?
1) Swarm Cells
The cells are long and usually to be seen hanging on the edges of the frames; either along the bottom bars or in recesses on the sidebars.
Occasionally some cells will be on the face of a comb. In terms of number, there are rarely less than 5-6, most typically 10-20 and possibly up to 100 of them.
As the name suggests, the colony is producing new queens so that it can swarm. When swarm cells are present the beekeeper needs to do something about it or the colony will inevitably swarm.
Swarming will usually occur around the time that the first queen cells are sealed (day 8) but it can occur earlier, especially if you have previously destroyed queen cells.
Swarming can also occur early for no reason that is apparent to the beekeeper. It can also occur later if delayed by poor weather and, in extreme cases, the queen cells may be ready to hatch and ‘warder’ bees are keeping the young queens penned in their cells until the prime swarm (containing the old queen) can depart.
2) Supersedure Cells
Like swarm cells, these are entirely vertical but are usually located on the face of the comb. There are usually only 2-3 of them grouped together on the same comb. The intention here is to replace the existing queen who they have decided is not up to the job. She may be old, she may be damaged and probably a host of other things of which we are not aware.
Unfortunately bees seem to be unable to detect when a queen is running out of sperm and is destined to become a drone-layer. Normally the old queen is retained until her replacement has successfully mated and started to lay. In some cases, mother and daughter will co-exist in the hive for some time in apparent harmony but eventually the old queen will disappear. If supersedure cells are found in a colony, beekeeper should leave well alone and hope the outcome will be successful . Early spring and late autumn attempts at supersedure are often unsuccessful and the situation needs careful watching to see that the colony does not become queen-less.
3) Emergency Queen Cells
These are produced in response to the sudden loss of the queen.
This type of queen cell is produced in a real emergency and all the colony wants is to get a new queen as soon as possible – it does
NOT want to swarm. The queen may have died suddenly of natural causes or the beekeeper may have killed her or spilt her onto the ground during hive manipulations.
Emergency queen cells are also produced if the beekeeper deliberately removes the queen from a colony. If a colony loses its queen more than 4-5 days after she last laid there will be no brood young enough to make an emergency queen. Instead of being developed from an egg or larva in a queen cup, emergency queen cells are based on existing eggs or young larvae in a normal horizontal worker cell. Nurse bees start to feed the selected occupant with royal jelly and the outer rim of the cell is extended downwards to make room for the increased size of a queen. The cell is therefore part horizontal and part vertical with a right-angle bend in the middle. At first sight emergency queen cells look rather unimpressive and they are easily overlooked.
There is a firmly rooted dogma in beekeeping that queens developed in emergency queen cells are inferior to those from swarm cells. Despite, from the outside, looking smaller than swarm cells, emergency cells normally produce perfectly good queens. The idea that emergency queen cells produce an inferior queen (a ‘scrub’ queen) is probably based on last-ditch attempts by beekeepers to re-queen colonies that have been queen-less for some time by giving then a frame with eggs or young larvae on it. Such colonies do not have enough nurse bees of the right age to produce a fully developed queen.
There are some circumstances where swarm cells and emergency queen cells can co-exist in a colony. For example, if a colony swarms early (before the swarm cells are sealed), the workers may respond to the loss of the queen by making some emergency cells. This is in direct response to the sudden loss of queen pheromones in the colony. The same thing can happen if the beekeeper removes the queen when making an
artificial swarm. In neither of these cases are the emergency cells of practical significance as they are so much younger than the swarm cells and are unlikely to survive to maturity.
However, there is one situation where emergency queen cells can matter. That is when a colony has already swarmed and the beekeeper has been forced into culling all but one (1) of the remaining queen cells to avoid the production of a cast swarm. If the culling is done immediately after the swarm has departed, then there may still be eggs and young larvae present from which the bees can make emergency queen cells. This happens after the beekeeper has closed-up the hive believing that everything is under control. Being in swarming mode, the bees will treat these emergency cells as swarm cells and may use them to cast swarm. The principle here is that it is not the type of cell that matters but the behaviour programme the bees are
on that determines the outcome.