Intercaste queens and swarm guards
I want to share an interesting conversation I’ve been having with Oregon beekeeper Morris Ostrofsky. After I posted about how to use swarm guards, he challenged the idea that virgin queens can sometimes get through them. He wrote:
I had a conversation with Dan Purvis some years ago regarding virgin queens and queen excluders. Dan is a commercial queen breeder and quite knowledgeable. He is adamant that virgin queens cannot go through a queen excluder. If this is so, then virgin queens should not be able to go through a swarm guard if the spacing is the same as a queen excluder. When virgins first come out of their cells, their abdomens are not full size but their thorax is and that’s the reason virgins cannot pass through a queen excluder.
I explained that I’ve seen swarms with virgin queens go through swarm guards, but I thought this might be due to worn out excluders. Over time as they get dropped, thrown into the backs of trucks, or wedged into buckets, the spacing gets compromised . . . at least in the metal ones. At that point, if a queen is lucky, she can find that sweet spot where the bend works in her favor.
But then Morris came up with a brilliant idea that could explain why I was seeing something different than a commercial queen breeder even if the excluder was properly spaced:
An intercaste queen, a queen which has been raised from a larva that is too old to produce a perfect queen, will be smaller. This could explain a smaller queen passing through an excluder: a smaller queen, therefore a smaller thorax. Since Dan is a competent queen breeder he surely does not see intercaste queens, at least not from his own operation. So from his own experience he would be adamant that the thorax of queens would not pass through an excluder.
Intercaste queens are small
And I believe Morris is right. His comment reminded me that I did have such a queen a few years ago. She was so small I couldn’t find her except by looking for her retinue. Although she was basically queen shaped, she was not much longer than a worker, and I would say her abdomen was more rounded and less pointed than a standard queen. Surely she could have fit through an excluder.
I kept track of her because I was fascinated by her smallness. She was obviously able to mate and function normally because she built up the hive for about three months before the colony superseded her. In a way, she demonstrated nature over nurture—she was small because she was nurtured too late to become a normal queen, but her genetics were fine because she laid the egg that became the queen that superseded her. The colony ultimately thrived and lives on today.
But this is an open topic. I’m sure there is more to hear on the subject of virgin queens, intercaste queens, and queen excluders, so be sure to chime in.