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Despite the fact that introducing a new queen may seem like a simple operation, in reality it is far from being simple. On the contrary, the acceptance of a new queen is a complex process that will have a great influence on the evolution of the queen and conversely the performance of its new colony. For example, if the queen suffers injuries during the acceptance process, if if she manages to survive, these injuries can have a negative effect on how the queen will later perform.
The base principle for the success of this operation is very simple: in order for a bee colony to accept a new queen, the colony must want a new queen. There are two situations when a colony wants a new queen: when it wants to replace the old queen or when it doesn’t have one. All the different methods for introducing a new queen into a colony will emulate one of these two situations.
Therefore, the methods we found to have the highest rate of success are the following:
- When we want to introduce the queen to a small colony (swarm on no more than 4-5 Dadant frames for example) by orphaning the swarm it is important to form them with capped brood. If the newly formed swarm only has capped brood, after 24 hours without a queen, we place the cage with the new queen inside; the bees will gradually consume the sugar cane and will release the queen. If the swarm also has larvae, we must wait until all the brood is capped, we eliminate the queen larvae if there are any and only after that we will place the cage. Another option is to form the new colony with no brood frames; in this case we must have nurse bees on the frames and place the cage with the queen directly. The acceptance rate should be excellent as there aren’t any larvae present on the frames (to attempt to form a new queen). We recommend using small colonies (4-5 frames) as opposed to large colonies in order to minimize the risk of the queen not being accepted and also to allow the new queen the necessary time to accommodate to laying a much larger number of eggs.
- In case of the large colonies, we must leave the colony without a queen for an even greater period as there is brood in all stages of development. Therefore, in order to prepare the colony to receive the new queen we must do the following: we remove the old queen and leave the colony without one for 8 days. During this time all the brood will be capped. In the 8th day we eliminate all the queen larvae and after another day we place the cage with the new queen between the frames. Even if this method is more lengthy and harsh for the colony, it greatly increases the chances for the new queen to be accepted. A faster alternative, presented by a Swedish beekeeper and one that emulates the natural replacement of a queen goes as follows: we place the existent (old) queen in a sealed cage (the bees cannot release it) on one of the colony’s brood frame and we leave it in place for 48 hours. During this period, the bees will notice that the laying of eggs has ceased and will know that there’s something wrong with their current queen and will want to replace it. After the 48 hours have passed, we remove the sealed cage with the old queen and place the new one instead (with its seal broken). We haven’t personally tested this method, but according to the same beekeeper it has a great success rate.
It’s vital that, regardless of your chosen method, to not disturb the colony or swarm in any way for the next 5 or 6 days. Keep in mind that the bees can’t sense differences in smell between the old and new queen; despite the popularity of this claim among beekeepers, there is absolutely no scientifically proved argument supporting it. What leads to the actual rejection of a queen are the differences in its behavior: a young queen will be much more agitated when stressed or disturbed and will move around faster and erratic. These are the moments when the bees from the new colony will notice the difference in the queen’s behavior and will want to eliminate it.
There are of course other methods; we have only presented the ones that seemed the most adequate and less risky and minimize the chances of aggression. There isn’t one method that absolutely guarantees success and therefore we do not take the responsibility to recommend one over the other. With that being said, if one carefully follows the above mentioned steps, the risks will be greatly reduced.