Natural Supersedure of Queens

(from: Khalil Hamdan)
Supersedure, as it relates to apiculture, is the bees’ way of replacing an existing queen with a new queen in the same hive, without intervention by the beekeeper.

Thus supersedure is nature’s way of re-queening. Generally this occurs in the spring, summer or in early autumn months. The queen supersedure process differs from that of swarming which is associated with reproduction, and in which one or more queens are raised and the old queen leaves the colony with a swarm, leaving the new queen with the hive.

No new colony is formed when colonies supersede their queen. Supersedure queens are raised out of need; swarm queens result from a physiological urge in the colony. Supersedure queens are raised when the bees are unhappy with the performance of the current queen and decide to replace her. Evidently the queen must not be doing exactly what the bees expect of her.

A number of reasons might account for this, such as physical condition of the queen (missing a leg or wing), old age, disease such as nosema, depleted spermatheca, poorly bred queen (developed from old larva rather than new larva), not making enough pheromones, or even no new bees emerge for 21 days following introduction of a package in a new hive.

The honeybees know more about the condition of their queen than we could ever know by just looking at her. Apparently bees determine queen failure through a special chemical substance or pheromone produced by the queen from her mandibular glands. This pheromone is passed on to her attendants or retinue via touch, grooming and feeding and hence to the other bees in the hive as they share food. The presence of this pheromone inhibits queen cell building as well as the development of the workers’ ovaries. Bees evaluate their queen based on the quality of this pheromone she produces.

If they begin to receive an insufficient amount each day, they may perceive she is not up to the job. A young, healthy queen inhibits her replacement. Her pheromone is strong. As she ages her pheromone secretion declines; the bees will sense this and set about raising new queens to replace her with a daughter queen. (read complete text here)

(from: Klauses Bees)  The word to SUPERCEDE means to ‘take over / make anew / get rid of that which came before’

The first clue that something is wrong with the queen / that the colony is not pleased with her reproductive skills,
will be a large amount of drone cells  – cells larger than the worker and ‘bubbled ‘high.

Drone cells Drone brood (male)

The worker bees will decide to feed the newly deposited eggs an enhanced portion of food in order to ‘grow’ the drone.
His sole purpose will be to ultimately inseminate the ‘new’ queens.

When the hive begins to create new queen cells (long peanut shaped cells)

Superceding = new queen cell

the beekeeper knows that the existing queen is not doing a very good job and that her days are numbered;
that the colony does not approve of her and has lost confidence in her ability to create a productive hive,
so they/the colony will feed one, two or more of her eggs with a ‘special enzyme’ mixture (royal jelly)
which in turn will produce a new queen.

As the colony has created several new queens to increase their chances of survival and,
as only ONE queen will rule the hive,

Queen cell circled

the queens upon emerging from their ‘birth cell’ will either fight to the death
(queen stingers are only reserved for other queens), live side by side (I have only seen that once in 35+ years)

Queen cell already opened

or swarm


taking with them colony members to start their own new colony elsewhere.