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Monday morning myth: attendants must be removed from queen cages

Many beekeepers believe that you must remove attendant bees from queen shipping cages before you introduce a caged queen into a hive. They believe the queen will more likely be killed by the receiving hive if both the attendants and the queen have a foreign odor.

This simply is not true. If you install the caged queen properly, the attendants will cause no problem. Before long the queen’s pheromone will circulate throughout the hive. All the bees—as well as the attendants—will then smell the same.

You can install the queen and her attendants by simply putting the shipping cage near the center of the brood nest or cluster. For best results, the hive should have been queenless for at least 24 hours prior to installation. You can then just stick the shipping cage into the wax comb on one of the frames with the screen side open to the bees. Make sure the candy end is up and the cork end is down.

After several days, the worker bees will chew away the candy plug and release the queen into the hive. By then, the pheromone will be well distributed and the attendant workers will be absorbed into the colony along with the queen.

The bigger risk to the queen—especially by inexperienced beekeepers—may result from trying to get the attendants out of the queen cage. Queens have been lost, injured, or killed by well-meaning beekeepers who wrongly believed the attendants were a threat.

For more information on queen introduction, Strachan Apiaries, Inc. has a succinct little write-up on its website. Their instruction sheet specifically states that it is not necessary to remove the attendants. And you can trust them. After all, they are in the business of providing quality queens to beekeepers . . . and they don’t want them destroyed.

Rusty

Comments

jess
Reply

All of my attendants died and somehow their corpses blocked the whole sugar plug. So I took the cork out, but somehow a dead bee body got stuck in there too. I ended up just taking the screen off and letting her go myself after four or five days. Her majesty does not like to be trapped in a cage with her dead court.

Rusty
Reply

That’s the reason they say to put sugar end up–so any dead attendants fall to the cork end and don’t block the sugar or the exit. This usually works. But I imagine if they got wedged in the sugar end before you install it, that could be a problem.

You did the right thing, of course. I often release the queens by hand anyway, especially if they haven’t gone through the sugar in a day a two.

jess
Reply

I was quite surprised to see that she turned rather dingy without her fan club cleaning her constantly. Once she was released, they shined her up inside of a day. Hopefully she is laying in the next day or two.

Rusty
Reply

Is that right? I’ve never seen a dingy queen, but it makes sense. How long was she living alone, do you think? Were the attendants dead when you got her or after? That’s interesting. The four I had shipped here didn’t have any dead, and they were in the mail for several days and then inside my drawer for nearly a week, but still no dead.

jess
Reply

The attendants died maybe 3 days after I put the cage in the hive. They were alive when they arrived. Then I turned the cage, and took the cork out and waited another day or two before I got frustrated and took the screen off. It was strange, she definitely looked dull. I have never seen anything like it, even in photos. I should have taken a picture but I was a little “covered in bees” (cue eddie izzard impersonation).

ORoedel
Reply

You read Brother Adams comments about re-queening?

Rusty
Reply

Not lately.

ORoedel
Reply

Would be interesting, he had a totally different idea of re-queening. I have the text in German only; if you search the web you will find the English version. Very interesting!

Sarah Price
Reply

We are new to bees. We just installed our package of bees into our top bar beehive on Saturday. (We live in Montana)

We followed your guidance about releasing the queen, and tonight we did so. In doing so we had to dislodge some of the comb that the bees built around her cage. We watched her leave the cage and removed it, but later observed her leave the hive and then return.

Should we be worried about her leaving?

We think the hive has also killed most of the drones, should we be worried.?

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

Removing the comb from around the cage is nothing to worry about. Sometimes newly released queens fly, but they usually come back. She won’t leave permanently unless everyone goes with her, but flying has it’s dangers; for instance, bees on the wing frequently get eaten by birds.

You say the hive colony killed the drones? Why do you think that? This is not drone-killing time, so I guess I would be worried. What exactly did you see?

John T
Reply

Rusty, you’ll never know how much I apperciate the wisdom and knowledge that I’ve gained from this website. I’ve only been keeping bees for five years. Your information has helped me so much. I stumbled on to this website, and I’m so thankful. I read and study about bees all the time. I’m in a bee club in Forest Park Ga. and that helps me also. I passed the certification through the UGA program In 2013. Keep up the good work. You’re helping thousands of beekeepers.

Rusty
Reply

John,

Thank you and congratulations on your certification. The UGA program is a good one and I like to see beekeepers get the education they need.

Jerry
Reply

First time beekeeper here. How long should it take for the queen to be released from her cage? It’s been 4 days and her and her attendants are still in there. After checking it yesterday and seeing this I just put the cage back in. On second thought I wish I would have done a forced release. It has been kind of cold and rainy up in northern Wisconsin and they were tightly clustered. Did I do the right thing?

Rusty
Reply

Jerry,

You didn’t make a mistake because sometimes it takes a while and sometimes it’s very quick. Still, next time you’re in the hive, go ahead and release her if the workers have already built some comb. If they haven’t built any comb, wait a few more days.

Terese
Reply

There was no candy in my queen cage when I pulled out the cork. I didn’t bring marshmallows or anything with me, so I just put the queen cage straight into the hive fully opened. Is there a chance the workers didn’t kill the queen? They were sitting in the package together for quite awhile. I will be checking for eggs in a few days.

Rusty
Reply

Terese,

If they were altogether for a few days as you say, you should have no problem.

Alex
Reply

I recently purchased a nuc of 5 frames. I asked the guy to mark my queen; he did but she seemed to be way over marked. I got home and put them in a 10 frame and never saw the queen. I think he dropped it or the bees took her out cus they thought she was hurt. I waited a week and still see no eggs and no queen. The brood they had is mostly all hatched. I bought a queen 3 days a go. I checked today and released her but I walked by the hive and it seemed like they was carrying the queen workers out(dead). what are the chances of the queen being dead too? Pls help

Rusty
Reply

Alex,

I don’t know how you concluded they were the queen’s workers that were being carried out. (I assume you mean the cage attendants.) Dead bees get carried out every day, and I would think it would be hard to tell the difference between the attendants and the other bees. I think you should relax. Most probably things are okay. The first queen died for some reason, but that doesn’t meant the second one will die as well.

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