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Is it a swarm cell or a supersedure cell?

During spring build-up, beekeepers often search for swarm cells in order to determine if the hive is preparing to swarm. But what is a swarm cell and how is it different from a supersedure cell?

First of all, the term “cell” usually refers to an oversize structure attached to the comb in which a queen will be raised. This can be confusing to new beekeepers, because there are regular “cells” all over the place—in fact, a comb is nothing more than a series of interconnected hexagonal cells. Confusing as it may be, however, when beekeepers talk about “cells” they are usually referring to queen cells.

Drone cells are often in the vicinity of swarm cells but should not be confused with them. Drone cells usually occur in groups at the edge of the frame, and there may be hundreds of them. They are much bigger than worker cells, and some people describe them as “bullet-shaped,” although I would guess the people who use that term have never seen a bullet. I would describe the surface of drone cells as “pebbly” or like cobblestones. In any case, the surface is rounded whereas worker cells are flat on top.

Pebbly-textured drone cells
Pebbly textured drone cells. Flickr photo by blumenbiene

Queen cells are very different. When completed, they look like a peanut shell—rough-textured, elongated, perhaps an inch overall (2.5 cm), and they hang vertically off the frames. Once you see a completely finished and capped swarm cell it is usually too late to stop swarming, so you have to learn to identify them before they are finished. In their unfinished form they are called queen cups. Queen cups are prepared for the existing queen to lay eggs in.

Peanut-shaped queen cell that is probably a swarm cell
Peanut-shaped queen cell. Flickr photo by blumenbiene

Now, more confusion. The term “queen cup” is also used by beekeepers to describe a commercially manufactured product that is used to raise queens. Their purpose is the same—a place to lay an egg that will be raised as a queen—only the commercial ones are made of wood, plastic, or perhaps wax. The ones you are looking for are made by the bees and have been described by others as “teacup” shaped—although I think they look more like tiny bowls. After an egg is laid in a cup, the cell is enlarged into the “peanut” shape by the workers.

Queen cup, the precursor to a queen cell
Queen cup. Flickr photo by blumenbiene

Now, in case there are people who can actually follow this description, I’ll add another layer of confusion. A cell hanging off the middle of the frame somewhere is usually a supersedure or “emergency” queen cell. A cell hanging off the bottom of a frame is usually a swarm cell.

Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb. Swarm cells, however, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.

If a colony is in two brood boxes, the swarm cells will almost always be found hanging from the bottom of the upper row of frames between the two boxes. When beekeepers hunt for swarm cells they frequently just tip up the upper brood box and examine the bottoms of the exposed frames.

Honey Bee Suite


rich godfrey

Superb photos! This was very helpful to a new beekeeper. Also, I am writing a book on queen bees, Kenya and their bee keepers. Would I be able to utilize photos if I contact you in 2011? In any case, thanks for your work!



Let me know if you have specific photos you want to use. Please note, however, that some of the photos on this site were taken by others and you will have to seek permission from those photographers directly. If you need help locating them, I will be happy to assist you.

ET Ash

Nice site and nice pictures. There often seems to be some confusion in regards to the reason a hive builds queen cells. By the book the reasons fall into three categories 1) swarming 2) supersedure and 3) an emergency (cells produced due to the sudden loss of the queen). The position of the cells is oftentimes given as an indication of determining if a cell falls into reason 1 or 2 although this is oftentimes a simplistic response that may lead to misunderstanding.

In reality the location of a queen cell may mean very little and lead a novice bee keeper to an improper conclusion. What is likely more useful information to the novice are the other clues that a hive is swarming (large population, crowded in whatever space they are allocated, and generally a two year old or older queen) and that some beekeeper manipulations may be the primary cause of supersedure (and have nothing to do with a queen failing). Add to this excessive supersedure typically means there is some disease at hand that needs to be dealt with promptly.


Thanks, you make some excellent points.

I would also add that certain genetic lines build more supersedure cells than others, making that another consideration to bear in mind.


Great info and fab pictures. This was very helpful, thanks!


I’ve had my hive about 1 month. I bought it already queened and brood and honey started. I have added two more deep supers….. yes, now I know I should have made the top super for honey a smaller one.

My bees still have plenty of room but my queen has started building brood in the box ABOVE the brood box. I had the president of my bee club look at my hive and he said there are a lot of bees but still plenty of room. After looking at your pictures, I think they had built the comb on the bottom of the brood rack in the upper box. I looks like your bottom picture. HOWEVER I did not see anything that looked like a queen cell; neither did the guy helping me.

Could it be extra comb? Do I cut it off? My friend did suggest I might want to split the hive in June because there will be so many bees. What would be the easiest way to do that? If you do the “walkaway ” method can you leave the new hive in the same yard or do you have to move it the normal 2 miles?

I’ve ordered a queen excluder to keep the queen from moving up to the final top super.



Lots of questions! First, it is hard to know for sure without seeing the hive, but your bees may have built comb in an inconvenient place, such as hanging off the bottoms of the brood frame. You can easily cut this away. Just always be careful that the queen won’t be injured in the process. Extra comb like that is called bridge comb or burr comb and it is not unusual to have some here and there.

If you want to split the hive, wait until you get your queen excluder and then use the method I wrote about recently called an “overnight” split. I think that may be the easiest. You can keep both hives in the same yard, just realize that all the forager bees will go back to the original hive and you will be left with only brood and nurse bees in the split. For a few days you won’t see much activity in the split until some of the brood hatches and the nurse bees become foragers. Once you split, you have to decide whether to buy a queen or let the hive raise their own. Raising their own will take a while, so you may want to buy a mated queen to get the new colony going faster.

There’s really nothing wrong with using a deep super for honey. The major consideration is extracting. If you use an extractor it will have to be of a size that will take deep frames. If you just crush and strain, it really makes no difference.

Jane Peters

Thank you so much for these photos.

One comment that I did not quite understand “Some beekeeper manipulations may be the primary cuase of supersedure and nothing to do with a queen failing ”

I am a new beekeeper and need to learn everything that I may be doing wrong.





The theory is that too much hive interference by the beekeeper may cause the workers to think it is the queen’s fault. In other words, the workers believe an inept queen is causing all the disruption and therefor she should be replaced. This is just theory, of course, because we don’t know what the bees are thinking. But excessive hive intrusion does seem to correlate with more frequent queen supersedure, which is why it is a good idea to limit the number of times you go into a hive and to do the work efficiently and get out quickly.

Jim Whatley

I am a brand new buzzer boy…This is the most clear and informative site I have found. I hived a pkg of bees May 5th. How often is too much hive inspection? I have been told to be sure and check hive once a week to forget them till honey time. Thanks



If you haven’t, please read “Is too much hive inspection a bad thing?” My personal feeling is less is better, but new beekeepers need to learn about what they are seeing, so for new beekeepers a little more is okay. Also, urban beekeepers need to keep tighter control over swarming, so I would expect an urban beekeeper to be in there more often than a rural one. I think somewhere between the two extremes you mention would be good . . . let’s say once every two weeks until you feel more confident.

Rael Wilson

New at beekeeping. Had my hive swarm and found many swarm cells when I checked it 10 days later. Most are opened, have not found a queen or eggs yet but planning to check again at 15 days. Should I remove all the swarm cells once I establish that there is a laying queen?



There is really no need to remove the swarm cells once you have a laying queen. The new queen will destroy any remaining queen cells by opening up a hole in the side and stinging the developing queen.

Donna Fletcher

Have you found that swarm cells, on the bottom edge of frames, are larger/longer than supersedure cells hanging down from the face of the comb? This was mentioned at a recent meeting. I thought the length was determined by the queen spinning inside the cell. Is this true?
Thanks for your response,



They are the same size when they are complete, but usually you just see queen “cups” on the face of the comb. The bees prepare these in case they need them. If they don’t need them, they abandon them or take them apart. So if they are just in the cup stage they look smaller. If they actually raise a queen in one, it will get as big as a swarm cell on the bottom of a comb.


Hi Rusty,

First let me just say that I really appreciate your blog and the beautiful pictures that you post. It’s so helpful and informative to a new beekeeper like me.

I have 1 hive that I started this season as a 3 lb package. I am running all 8-frame mediums. Things have been progressing beautifully. Lots of eggs, larvae, capped brood, nectar and pollen. The bees are using the first 2 supers for brood and are in the process of building up comb and filling the 3rd super with honey. The 4th super (just added last weekk) is untouched at this point.

I checked my hive yesterday (week 6) and found queen cells on the top and bottom of a couple frames. They were in various stages of development, but several had royal jelly inside and some were capped. I did not spot the queen, but I did see eggs and larvae. I don’t know why they would want to swarm this early in their hive development. I am so afraid of them depleting their colony size and not surviving our northern winter. They have room to roam in the top super… like I said, it’s untouched.

I scraped off the queen cells on the bottom of the frame (in hopes of stopping them from swarming), but left the queen cells on the top of the frame intact (in case something is wrong with the queen and they must replace her). I am not sure what to do. Can there be swarm and supersedure cells in the same hive? They were built top and bottom. Peanut texture, long and filled with royal jelly. Your advice is really appreciated.



It is really hard to say what you should do. Being a new beekeeper, you probably don’t have another empty hive sitting around. If I found that situation, I would take one brood box and the queen and put it on its own bottom board. In other words, I’d make a split and leave all the swarm cells in the queenless box and let them raise a new queen. If they succeed and if the old queen is okay, you just have two hives instead of one. If one of the hives loses their queen, then I would recombine them.

One thing about bees—you can never say never. So although swarm cells are usually on the bottom of the frame and not the top, you can’t say they would never be on the top. Bees make their own rules.

I do not believe that destroying swarm cells is a good thing. You just don’t know which of the cells are viable. Furthermore, you can’t stop the swarm impulse by destroying cells.

Also, we often hear that bees won’t swarm the first year, but that isn’t always true either. The swarm impulse—that is the urge to reproduce—is strong and the bees are not dissuaded by cutting cells or providing more room. Some things can be done to lessen the probability of swarming, but not after capped swarm cells appear, except for splitting the hive and making them “think” they’ve already swarmed.

If you are lucky enough to catch the swarm once it leaves, you can always just put it back in the original hive—just combine it with newspaper and make sure you have just one queen. Once the swarm impulse is satisfied, you can recombine with no problem.


Hi Rusty,

Wonderful website. I have a swarm that I captured earlier this year and it is currently residing in a nuc box. The swarm has been in there a little over a month. When inspecting the today, stores seemed light, but there is pollen, nectar and brood and 3 queen cups. The nuc box has 5 partially drawn out frames. 2 frames just about fully drawn out and the other three a little over half. Could they really be ready to swarm again this late in the summear (I’m in SoCal)? Is it feasible to split a nuc?


Where are the queen cups? On the face of the comb or at the bottom of the frames? To me is sounds more like a supersedure–a replacement of the queen may be underway. Also, look to see if anything is in the queen cups. Some bees always keep queen cups on hand, just in case. Sometimes they build them, take them down, and rebuild them. Their presence don’t mean a swarm is about to occur.

Splitting something that small probably would not work well. I would just hang tight and see if they actually begin to use the cups.


Hi there,

What a fantastic site! I’m a Scottish beekeeper but I’m hoping that you’ll still be able to help me.
I’m new to beekeeping. My dad did it years ago when I was about 4 and recently I decided to give it a go too. My dad is helping me but he is a little unsure of what to do at the moment!

We caught a swarm of bees last June and fed them throughout the summer and winter as both were very wet, cold and windy. They survived through the harsh winter and seemed to be doing well until mid July. We had a brood and super for the bees to go in and in early July we added a queen excluder and another super because the bees were doing really well. After an inspection we found eggs, larvae and young bees. However, about a week later we found queen cells at the bottom of the frames and one in the middle of a frame. At least one was capped but there was no evidence of them swarming. We thought the best course of action would be to create an artificial swarm to prevent them swarming.

The books all suggest that you need to locate the queen and transfer her to the new hive. After 2 hours of searching each frame at least twice we couldn’t find her. The bees were starting to get agitated so we decided to close the hive and seek advice. I am also aware that queen cells can be formed if the queen is weak or dead.

The next day we decided to try splitting the colony without finding the queen. We placed the ‘old’ hive next to the new one but the bees appear to be going from one to another. Everything I’ve read suggests that you don’t disturb the hive for 3ish weeks so we haven’t opened it. However, I’m concerned that as we are new to beekeeping that we haven’t done the right thing. Do you have any suggestions or hints/tips?

Thanks in advance
Rosanna 🙂



A few things. You say you saw no evidence of swarming, but queen cells along the bottom of the frames is definitely a sign of swarming. So you did the right thing by attempting the artificial swarm.

There are many ways of splitting a hive, and some require that you find a queen and some do not. On my home page there is a tab called “splits” with links to about ten different ways to approach a split.

Whenever you split a hive and leave them close together, all the forager bees will go back to the original hive. That is fine; just know to expect it. The new hive will get foragers as soon as the older nurse bees develop into foragers. It will happen gradually, starting soon after the split.

It sounds to me like you have done a good job. When you open the hives, you will have to see if you have a laying queen in each. If all goes well, you will. If not, a purchased queen may be necessary. I hope it works!


Your information is clear good photos too, a new beekeeper am I !


I hived two packages of bees in top-bar hives exactly 2 weeks ago. I have not been able to locate the queens in either and today when I checked there is a queen cell in the middle of one of the combs. There is no brood, but the bees have been busy building comb and filling with nectar and pollen. I purchased my bees with a mated queen, so I’m not sure how long I should wait before I start seeing brood and if I need to re-queen the hives? Any expertise you can share would be great!!!



You should be seeing brood, at least eggs and larvae, at this point. If you are not used to looking for them, they can be difficult to see. Hold the comb up so the sun comes over your shoulder and lights up the inside of the cells. Eggs are very small and when they are first laid they stand up straight. Young larvae are c-shaped and milky white. If you find eggs and/or larvae, don’t worry about finding the queen; she is there.

The cell you are seeing is probably of no consequence. Many colonies build some, just to have them on hand. I wouldn’t read anything into it unless they start raising a queen in there. Generally, the cells remain empty, especially ones on the face of the brood comb.


Hi. I’ve kept bees for about 5 years and have regularly had to deal with swarming. I’ve just checked one of my 3 hives after a 10-day holiday away to find plenty of capped brood including drone cells, no grubs or eggs but no evidence of the hive having swarmed as there are as many bees as there were when I last checked. At that time there were eggs and grubs as well as a few central queen cells which I destroyed.

On one of the frames there are as many as 8 queen cells all capped lying in the centre of the frame. Am I right to assume that the hive is queenless and that the workers are raising new queens or are they about to swarm? The queen is/was 2 years old. Should I destroy all but one of the queen cells? I am an English beekeeper and thoroughly enjoy reading the messages. Great site!


Hi Albert,

It is always difficult to diagnose a colony without seeing it, of course. But based on your description, it does sound like the colony is trying to requeen itself. Before a swarm, the size of the brood nest is decreased, something the bees do by backfilling part of the brood nest with honey. But brood-rearing does not cease altogether before a swarm. So without any larvae or eggs, and many cells in the center of a frame, I would say they are trying desperately to produce a new queen.

Your second question is harder to answer. Many beekeepers believe you should destroy all but one queen cell, and do so routinely. On the other hand, some queens will be stronger than others because of the vagaries of genetics. If I destroy all but one cell, who is to say if I’m destroying the strongest, the weakest, or one in between? Who is to say if the one I select will even emerge?

So it is my belief that you should leave several. Once a strong one emerges, she will kill the others and she will even get help from the workers. This is the way nature designed the system, and the way I like to play it.

However, I don’t want to say the others are wrong because many beekeepers have success with killing all but one. So it comes down to a personal philosophy and a decision you will have to make yourself.

By the way, if I’m in need of queen cells in some other hive, I may take half and leave half. I hate to waste a perfectly good queen cell.


Thanks Rusty. Very useful info. I made the reluctant decision to destroy all but one of the queen cells. I checked the hive today. No swarming and thankfully the “queen” has made her way out of her cell. I did not try too hard to identify her as there are far too many workers about! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that eggs will appear shortly. If not I shall transfer some brood and eggs from one of the other hives. I’m very grateful for your help. Albert


I discovered 1000’s of bees swarming near the ground then moving upwards in a more condensed form toward the gutter of my house. The bees became very thick, almost like a drooping mat before they entered a small opening in the roof eve. I have never noticed bees around my house before but yesterday, for the first time, I found a handful of bees in the house. Is this a new swarm? Do you think the hive has been in the attic for a while or is it a new hive? Does it indicate that the bees are trying to construct a hive inside my closed attic? Is there a queen already or does the queen come later if this is a new hive? I can see the bees in the window of the attic. I assume they are attracted to the light. I am trying to sell my house so I am desperate for information.



It sounds like a new swarm that just moved in. Or it may be that they have been there for a while but are now hanging in beards on the outside of the house because it is hot inside. There is most probably a queen in there already. Honey bees are not normally attracted to light.


Thanks Rusty! My husband is very allergic to bee stings. He was stung a few days ago with a very bad reaction. We attached a shop vac hose to the bee entrance at the roof and have been vacuuming bees up everyday. Hated to do it! The bees appear gone at this time. What happens to the queen and her drones when the worker bees are gone? If it is a new swarm, would they then have to build a new hive or would they have brought a part of a hive with them from another location? If it is a new swarm (which I think it is), how long would it take the bees to build enough of a hive to cause damage to the inner wall of my inaccessible attic.



I would imagine the drones got sucked into the bee vac along with the workers. The queen and young brood can’t survive without the workers, so they will most likely just die.

If it was a swarm, they would build all new comb in the new location. Damage to a home is often a result of honey leaking into an interior space and then running down, but if the bees weren’t there very long, it is unlikely they did much damage, if any.



Thank you for your awesome site! As a novice keeper I have found your site very informative. However, after searching through all the information here, I need help. I have a top-bar hive and am enjoying it. Two weeks ago through the viewing window on the side I noticed swarm cups on a few of the comb. I gave them some space by adding and empty bar right behind the last brood. And I also removed the cups. I didn’t see the queen, who thus far has been fairly easy spot. The brood was sparse, and there were very few larvae and no noticeable eggs. No drones at all; no larvae, capped or otherwise.

This weekend, through the window I noticed more cups. I decided to go in again to try to spot the queen, and check to see if there was anything in the swarm cells. I found MULTIPLE capped supersedure cells on the face of most of the brood combs. They have a lot of honey, pollen, and nectar. Almost no capped brood and what is there is very scattered. Still no queen visible. I feel this late in the season, I’m in trouble. What can I do?

Jono in Portland Oregon



It certainly sounds to me like the colony went queenless and is trying to raise a queen. Hives sometimes go queenless in the fall for reasons I don’t fully understand. The fact that there is little brood and no drones is not, by itself, disturbing. Drones are usually evicted in this area starting in about August, and the size of the brood nest diminishes as well. But all those supersedure cups are telling, especially since they are being used.

By removing the cups last week, you probably slowed down the raising of a virgin by a week, but it may have been too late in the season anyway. If there are no drones in your area to mate with, the presence of a virgin wouldn’t make much difference.

I think the only thing you can do is try to find a queen. Sometimes you can order them from the southern states as late as November, or if you belong to a club, you can see if someone has an extra they are willing to part with. You want to work fast so you don’t raise a crop of laying workers.



I am a new beekeeper and have two hives. I harvested honey in August from one of the hives. The other hive was a young hive and is progressing nicely. After harvesting honey and treating for mites, I have seen the queen in the older hive or any cells with brood or new eggs. I am concerned I am queen less. I did not see any queen cells two weeks ago; however, saw three uncapped queen cups near the bottom of a board today when I looked for the queen and brood again. I have a bee keeper who has a mated queen and send me next week (I am in Virginia). This seems I the best option or do you recommend a different path, such as waiting and hoping the hive raises a new queen this fall or wait until spring.

Secondly, let’s assume I really mess up and I missed the new queen and I purchase a mated queen and I end up with both of them in the hive? What will happen?

I love your pictures and clear explanations. Thank you for taking the time to work with new beekeepers.



Your best option is the mated queen from your friend. Even if your bees manage to raise a queen, it will be hard or impossible to get her mated this late in the year.

If you get two queens in one hive, one will kill the other and you just hope they don’t kill each other. Check for a queen one more time before introducing the new one. It sounds like she’s probably gone, but just double check.


What wonderfully clear advice. Could you help us please with our problem? Last week we opened one of our hives to find 14 queen cells, all sealed. We did a split and had 4 queen cells left, which we cut out of the frame. We have put them in a propagator at a temperature of 35c, but after three days none have emerged. Is there anything else we should do, or are the queens dead?



Queens remain capped from 7 to 9 days, so it would depend on when they were capped.

Jack Kehoe

I am very new at this. I have burr comb. Between the two boxes. I have found larvae in this comb. Is this a queen cell? I find some eggs. This is a new nuc I bought. Can you help me on this? thanks Jack



Burr comb between bee boxes is a common occurrence. Often, once the comb is built, the queen lays eggs in it. I just scrape it away whenever I see it because I want to keep the frames easily accessible. The one thing to check is to make sure the queen isn’t in it when you scrape because you could easily kill her. I have actually scraped burr comb and then found the queen in the scrapings. Luckily for me, she was fine, but now I’m very cautious.


Hey Rusty,

Will the workers build queen cups, in my case on the bottom of the frames, and then abandon them? Does it always mean they are planning on swarming?




Queen cups are regularly built and taken down, depending the the bees’ agenda. Queen cups by themselves don’t mean much, and some genetic lines build more than others. Only if the queen lays eggs in them is there a concern.


I have not started beekeeping yet but I plan to start soon. If you do notice your hive preparing to swarm and you would like to have two colonies would you have to wait until they are out and resting on a nearby tree for example before you catch them or could you move the swarming frames into a new hive? Thank you. 🙂



You want to split before they swarm because chances are you won’t be able to catch them. See this post: How to make a swarm control split.

Jasper McGuiggan

Hello Rusty, I hope you’re well and getting better summer weather than us here in Ireland 🙂

An unusual thing happened to one of my hives, during a 14 day inspection having the queen clipped and marked, I noticed many classic examples of capped supersedure cells, Ive already found it is very disruptive to the brood cycle of a hive, this old queen was laying perfectly at present she was my best queen. I didn’t have my nuc box ready to move the old queen out in order to keep her laying instead of losing her to the supersedure, the theory is if I can keep the old queen laying in a nuc I can transfer the brood back to the main hive and limit the distribution.

The next day I went back the old queen was gone and I found a newly emerged queen (emerged on day 15) hiding in a crevice on the wax frame, I was truly blessed to spot her, so I caged her and went through the remainder of the hive to see what was going on. The other frame with 4 cells on it were still capped so I moved this to a nuc box with some stores etc. just as a back up in case this new queen failed to mate or whatever. I found the uncapped cell where this new queen came from and there was two other sealed cells beside it which I then broke down, there now was only the new virgin queen in the main hive and all other cells were removed.

Five days later I was down at my hives just checking underneath one of them to see if there was chalkbrood still appearing on the open mesh floor and just did a quick check on the floors of the other hives, looking underneath when I spotted a swarm cluster under the hive where the newly emerged supersedure queen was, I brushed them into a nuc box and put them to a new location. I went through the hive to see if it was this supersedure queen and it was she had swarmed and left the colony queenless and without a queen cell or eggs to create a good one.

The nuc finally got mated early this week so I united them back together with the original hive (the sheet of newspaper method), I had a look inside yesterday and she was gone only a small few eggs present mostly drones, How they got rid of her through a queen excluder, I don’t know. There was some balls of bees and when you separated them they would be fighting with one bee in the middle of the ball, I guess the uniting failed. 🙁 I sprayed them all with a thymol product here called Hive Alive in hoping it would mask the smells of the bees and stop the fighting. I looked into the nuc that swarmed and she hasn’t started laying yet but they are polishing cells so hopefully any day now, I’m just afraid they will kill her too if I united them back together, its now bordering on the laying worker time frame. As its my first year having bees I don’t have any other queens around so its my last chance, I put in a test frame of brood into the hive in hoping it will suppress the laying workers and also to see if they will draw down a queen cell.

Would you have any advise on if it’s ok to unite the swarmed queen back to the main hive, have you any better method other than using newspaper? Maybe use a queen introduction cage this time and let the other bees in the nuc unite using the newspaper method?

The three main things I learned from this are,

(1) The 14 day inspection is too long especially for beginners as you have a good chance of losing your old queen, I already lost one during supersedure when the supersedure cells weren’t even capped yet. Do a weekly inspection if possible to be on top of things like getting a nuc prepared etc

(2 ) Supersedure cells can swarm

(3) Don’t destroy queen cells from your good productive hives, used them in Apideas and try and get some mated queens into them as early as possible in the season, I wish I had a few mated queens lying around now, I destroyed many good queen cells throughout the season……

Sorry for my long winded message hope it makes some sense 🙂

Slán go fóill……


Hey Jasper,

This is long and complicated and I don’t know if I understand the entire thing. As far as inspection, I still believe in erring on the side of fewer inspections, not more, but I understand the necessity of new beekeepers to learn. Still, all that disruption and moving of queens and cells and frames might have added to the confusion in the hive. It certainly confused me. And if you make a mistake like overlooking one of the virgins, you can easily end up with no queen at all.

I don’t understand your comment, “Supersedure cells can swarm.” Your knot of bees under the hive sounds more like an absconding bunch, rather than a swarm. And again, a lot of disruption may cause them to abscond. I could be wrong and it may have been a swarm, but it doesn’t sound like it to me.

As for not destroying queen cells, I totally agree. I think destroying queen cells is one of the most questionable practices in all of beekeeping, especially if it is done before you have all the queens you need. Not all queens hatch, not all are healthy, not all manage to mate, and some are killed after they mate. Why take the chance?


We are new beekeepers and have a very robust hive. Two days ago, we went into the hive and found 3-4 queen cups. I believe they were uncapped. It was taking us a long time to go through the hive and we weren’t able to go through the bottom box because the bees became annoyed (hubby got 3 stings!). We asked our mentor to come out and go through the hive with us and he went through the whole thing. These were the only cells he found and he also found brood, plenty of honey, larvae and eggs. He said the hive looked great and still had plenty of laying room. He wasn’t concerned about the cells and crushed them with his fingers. He advised against making a nuc due to it being later in the season (we’re in New England). This didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. We had planned on making a nuc but went with his advice. Any thoughts? Thanks a lot!



You say you found queen cups and later you refer to them as cells. It’s important to understand the difference. A queen cup is just the beginning of a queen cell. It’s about 20-25% as long and is usually empty. Honey bees often build these cups in case they are needed later. The number of cups is very dependent on the genetics of the colony: some build a lot, some build just a few. In fact, some colonies build them and then dismantle them. Think of it as buying a crib before you decide whether to have a child.

The term “queen cell” usually refers to an expanded cup where the queen has placed an egg and the workers are busy feeding it and nurturing a virgin queen. Queen cells have potential queens inside. The cells may be capped or not, depending on how far along the process is.

My guess is that your mentor destroyed empty queen cups, which is nothing to worry about. They can build more overnight.

The only way I would start a nuc at this late date is if I had a mated queen on hand, and even then it would be difficult. Raising a queen from a cell would take too long. It takes several weeks to raise a queen, get her mated, and get her laying. And once laying begins, it will be three weeks before any brood hatches out. When mature, that brood can start putting away what little nectar they may find, but not much will be available.

The other problem is mating. Drones are usually expelled beginning in August, depending on where you live. That means that even if you have a queen ready to mate, there might not be anyone to mate with. Always remember, colonies expand January through June and contract July through December. That’s simplistic, of course, but it’s a good reminder that you can’t do in August what you can do in May.


Thanks so much for explaining the difference between cups and cells. We have been worried about them swarming and thought the only solution was to create a nuc. I am hoping they were just cups and we’ll be ok.

Alexander Benjamin


Thanks for the great website. I’m a beginner beekeeper.

Last Friday I saw 3 swarm cells in the hive. 2 of them were empty and one had a tiny larvae in it. It was fed by a worker bee as I was watching it.

The population was high so I decided to use the opportunity to make a split and hope to prevent swarm.

Today is Tuesday. I opened the hive and found no queen cells in it. No queen cells on the frame where I found them last Friday.

Had a look at the queen and she seemed to me a bit bigger then the one I saw on Friday.

Could it be that they swarmed and destroyed the queen cells after the new queen had emerged?

I spent some time just watching the ‘new’ queen today. She is crawling around sticking her head into cells but she wasn’t laying.

On Friday most of the frames had capped brood cells so I reckon they hatched out and Tuesday population seems to be the same as on Friday. Could it be that the rest swarmed and I don’t see less bees because of the newly hatched ones?

There are no more swarm cells in the hive at the moment. So I hope they are not planning on swarming.

But I really love to know is it a new queen in the hive or is it the old one and I simply misunderstood something.

If you have time, could you please let me know your point of view.

Thank you so much.



I have a problem … I think. Sorry so long…

I bought an overwintered established hive in one deep box. I also bought 7 other hives each in a medium box. I told the beekeeper I bought from that one hive was very angry and aggressive. Over the course of a couple days, their attitudes were the same. I didn’t see the queen and since it was my first few days keeping bees, I didn’t even know what an egg looked like so I didn’t know if this hive had a queen or not. The beekeeper gave me a mated queen and I am supposed to introduce her. Well, upon further inspection, I found the queen! Now I had a mated queen in a cage. I split the deep box took 4 frames and put them into a deep box and filled the rest with foundation frames. The box only came with 9 frames total … I think he pulled one over on me.

The queen was accepted and now I have two boxes each with a queen. The split hive showed no activity. I could watch the entrance for twenty minutes and see maybe two bees enter/exit if I were lucky. The old queen box was doing great. I decided to take one more frame of brood from the old box and add to the new. I also switched locations in the middle of the day.

The next day … Viola! The new/weaker hive was buzzing. I saw eggs, she finally started laying. I believe I didn’t provide enough comb for her to lay in and also enough of the right aged bees to nurse the brood.

Here’s my issue… while adding that last brood frame to the split, I noticed there were three queen cells on it. They were smaller than I expected but all hanging off the bottom of the frame and definitely queen cells. I went ahead and added that frame to the split box anyway. I figured the old queen (actually, the new queen I got in the cage) would kill any new queen or nature would figure it out. So now, I have a new queen that just started laying and the possibility of another queen emerging from these three cells. The next day, all three queen cells were open and by some miracle, I saw a virgin queen close by. She HAD to be a queen. The black circle on her back was much larger than all other workers. I know she was a queen. I also saw the old queen a few frames over. WOW!!! it was a very exciting day for me.

Today, I inspected the hive and …no new eggs. I saw no old or new queen.
My question …what happened? The virgin queen killed my fresh new finally laying queen? Vice versa and I missed them both? I assume the virgin queen killed the other two queen cells but what of my laying queen? There are at least 7 queen cells now in that hive. I’m clear on the difference between drone and queen cells. These are for sure 7 queen cells and two queen cups. One of the cups and one of the cells are towards the top of frame. Everything is on the same frame.



You say, “The split hive showed no activity. I could watch the entrance for twenty minutes and see maybe two bees enter/exit if I were lucky. The old queen box was doing great.” That’s the way it is with splits. When you move the frames into a new box, all the forager bees go back to the original hive so all you have left in the split is nurse bees. It takes a few days for them to transition into foragers, and during that time it appears you are low on bees. Patience is important here. The extra frame you added was most likely unnecessary.

The queen cells were best left where the old queen was. She will most likely be replaced and it would be better to replace her than the newly introduced queen you just purchased.

I don’t know what happened, but if a virgin killed your queen, it can be 2 to 3 weeks before the she gets mated and ready to lay. Once again, patience.


Hi Rusty


I know I messed up. 🙁 My queen was just looking frantic and I guess I panicked and added that other frame. Luckily I didn’t buy her …she was just given.
Would a virgin kill a mated queen normally? Or would the queen kill the virgin? Or would they coexist until the virgin is mated then one of them is killed?



The battle between queen and virgin can go either way. The best fighter wins. Oddly, the killing happens before mating. It seems backwards to me, but they know more about it than I do.


Hi Rusty,

What an informative website, love all of your suggestions and other people’s comments and concerns.

I too have some concerns and yep it has to do with swarm cells located at the bottom of my brood box.

New to beekeeping I purchased my 1st nuc (queen and bees) in May, they went crazy busy and when I checked them after a month they were 95% full of brood & honey. I added another deep super on top thinking that they were becoming too congested. After about 2 weeks it was again 90% full of the same. This time I placed a queen extractor on top and 2 shallow supers hoping to get some sample honey for the family. I just checked after 2 weeks and there is nothing happening in the two upper supers. I removed the queen extruder and my intent Is to check again in a week and see if this has made a difference. If there is activity then I was going to add the queen extractor making sure that the queen is not up there laying and let them continue making honey. Is this ok to do?

Also while checking the empty supers we checked the whole hive including the bottom brood hive. I noticed about 4 uncapped swarm cells (about 1 inch in length) on the bottom of a frame. There are also some supercedure cells in the 2nd brood box. What to do???? I’m freaking thinking that they’ll swarm.

It’s August in Southwestern Ontario and I’m afraid if I split them there won’t be enough to endure our crazy winters.

Help….I feel like a new mother all over again.




It is sometimes easier to get the bees to build in a new box by leaving out the queen excluder until they get started. So yes, that is perfectly fine.

The presence of queen cups by itself doesn’t mean the bees will swarm. Still, they could swarm and you want to prevent that, if possible. I recommend removing a couple of honey frames from the upper deep brood box and replacing them with empty frames. You can store these frames for use later (freeze overnight first to kill moths). Having some empty frames in the brood box will make the bees feel less congested. If they are bent on swarming at this late date, you may have to split the hive and then recombine it later.


First of all it is a queen excluder not a queen extractor. It is used to exclude the queen from laying where you don’t want her to.
Have you tried checkerboarding the brood box? That would give her more laying space and we find it puts off swarming. If they do swarm, have a nucleus ready for them or another hive. You will increase your hives and colonies for free!



Jackie writes “extractor” sometimes and “extruder” sometimes, so I just chalk it up to typing errors.

But speaking of terminology, the process you have in mind is called “opening the brood nest” or “expanding the brood nest.” Checkerboarding is an entirely different thing and is performed above the brood nest in the honey supers.

In his writings Walt Wright, who came up with the concept and named it, is adamant that checkerboarding has nothing whatsoever to do with the brood nest. I encourage you to read his writings, which are all available online.

My own take on Walt’s work is found here: Checkerboarding: the X-files of beekeeping.


Thanks for the great website!
I was doing my last inspections of the year over the weekend, and I’m concerned that one of my hives may be queenless going into the winter. The hive had no eggs or brood of any kind, but when I pulled off the top box I accidentally severed a capped queen cell that was hanging down from the bottom of one of the frames. There was a large white larva inside. One of the other odd things about this hive is that it still had drones. The other hives all had brood but no drones left. Does this hive sound queenless to you? Maybe they swarmed on the fall goldenrod flow? I admit I haven’t opened that hive in a couple of weeks, as we’ve already had our first frost and our weather has been up and down. The hive has about 80 pounds of honey and looks to be in good shape aside from the lack of brood. I can combine it with another hive in the next few days before the weather turns cold again, but I was told that lack of brood isn’t necessarily a sign of queenlessness in the fall. Does that sound right to you?



In the Northern hemisphere, honey bee colonies go through a one- to three-month broodless period in October, November, and/or December. Since this is October, broodlessness is to be expected. I would not assume anything was wrong except for that queen cell. Did you see any others? Usually with a supersedure, they build more than one.

I doubt they swarmed late in the fall, which would be tantamount to suicide. I think more likely the colony was trying to replace the queen.

You need to figure out if you still have a queen. Don’t worry about opening the hives; the cold is immaterial. (Remember, if you have no brood, you can’t possibly chill it.) What is more important is to figure out if you have a viable queen. If not, combine the colonies (and don’t worry about the cold) or buy a queen from the south.


Thanks Rusty! I only saw the one capped queen cell. I will do a thorough check tomorrow, and hopefully I can find a queen. It’s a pity they don’t like her, as I just requeened that hive in August. The broodlessness stood out because the other three hives I inspected that day all had at least a couple of frames that still had some brood. I guess I’ll be inclined to call that hive queenless if I’m not able to find her after a thorough inspection, and get to work on combining hives.