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Two queens in one hive

Although we are taught that two queens can’t survive in one hive, it happens frequently. It occurs most often when a supersedure cell hatches while the original queen is still alive. The virgin daughter hatches, mates, and begins to lay eggs right alongside her mother. This is usually a temporary situation, but it can persist for weeks or even months.

Based on my own experience, I think it happens more frequently than we realize. We often search for the queen and then quit looking once we find her—assuming there is only one. With that assumption, it is easy to miss the second one.

The photos below came from a hive getting ready to swarm. Many swarm cells were lined up on the combs and some had already hatched. It’s possible that one of these is a newly-hatched virgin. The more yellow of the two (the first photo) was both smaller and quicker, signs of a possible virgin. Although a hive usually swarms before the virgins hatch, cold and rainy weather may have kept the swarm from leaving on time.

Rusty

The first queen I found in this hive. She was small with a light-colored abdomen.
The second queen was larger with a darker abdomen.

Comments

Jeff
Reply

Rusty,

I need your help. I started with one colony last year. I was feeding sugar syrup in May and early June to encourage comb production. I pulled 11 frames of drawn comb that was used for the new splits, three splits with two frames and one split with one frame using grafted queens from my colony and the drones of a friend 2 hours away. I installed some medium supers with some drawn comb and some empty foundation. The bees have been drawing foundation and filling comb over the last few days. There are a few frames of the deep not totally drawn out. I have one split that was a little week so I decided to pull a frame of capped brood with nurse bees. So while I was inspecting the top brood box I discovered one frame with 4 queen cells. I have yet to inspect the rest of the box(s). In two cells there is two queen larva and the other two have cells laid. My problem is I do not know what to do as with only one hive last year the only amount of drones available are from my first existing colony.

Of course these cups are right off the plastic foundation. My only option to cut them out is to cut out the foundation but I have no need for anymore colonies this year. I wouldn’t mind trying a nuc but I am concern about the lack of different drone stock. There there is the reduction in honey production.

Please off suggestions.

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

I’ve read your comment a few times and I’m still not totally sure what you are asking me. It sounds like you are concerned that the queen cells you found will produce queens that won’t have drones to mate with. Are you sure there are no other hives within a five-mile radius? If you are pretty certain there are no drones, you can just kill the queen cells. Just scrape them off the foundation.

If you have queens for all your splits, I wouldn’t try to use the queen cells even if there were drones to mate with. It sounds like you are stretched pretty thin with all those splits. Just delete the queen cells and call it good.

Phillip
Reply

Hey Jeff, I thought you found four SWARM CELLS on the bottom of the frames, not queen cups on the sides. I ain’t no expert, but if it’s swarm cells you’ve got, then it’s better to make a split. Right?

Jeff
Reply

I went in today to take a look. I found another two queen cups/cells with white in them. After closer observation I could not see any larvae so I decided to open them up. All I found was about 3 millimeters of royal jelly in the bottom. When I observed 3 of these cups on Saturday there were two with white stuff in them and one with an egg. When I went back today the two cells with the white in them were gone and so was the egg. In the bottom box I found another with white (for a total of four). I opened the one with white in it today and I could not find a larva. Immediately two bees began eating the liquid from the queen cup/cell.

I really do not know what to think. On saturday after after discovering this I pulled pulled two frames of capped brood with nurse bees with brood on it and I installed two frames with just foundation. The bees are pulling the foundation as we speak. I’d rather not deal with a swarm at this point.

Any thoughts on what is going on? I am wondering is removing all the extra nurse bees and brood and opening up space my have overted things (for a while). Also I saturday the frame with the white in them I lifted and turned over. I was reading and it said this may damage the larve.

Thanks Rusty.

Jeff
Reply

Hi Rusty,

To continue the saga of the colony that I added together with the laying queen and the virgin queen. Well after it was all said and done I found the marked laying queen, great. But it appears that she is not laying well and I found supersedure cells to replace her. I found the virgin queen that was in the added box being balled. I guess they were trying to kill her and she is dead now.

Back to the superseding. So I squished the smaller queen cells. Removed one frame with one queen cell and placed it in a nuc and left two queen cells into the original colony. I went in Tuesday, both cells are right next to each other and both have hatched. Saturday I went in to take a look and I found the marked original queen and very spotty and very little brood. So I started looking through the bottom box for any virgin queens and I discovered what looked like a mated queen but not laying yet. She was moving really slow like a laying queen abdomen was longer than a virgin but not fully filled out. So I think she was mated. Based on that I figured I’d go back in and find that marked laying worker and remove her. When I tried to removed her I couldn’t get a grip on her and she fell off the frame into the box. I tried to find her but I couldn’t get her on Saturday.

So I went back in on Sunday. I couldn’t find the marked queen in the top box. So I pulled a frame in the #2 position and when I looked in the bottom board I think I saw a virgin queen booting along on the bottom board. Being stun I should have lifted the bottom box off the bottom board to see if it was a virgin but I wasn’t that smart. So I continued my inspection for the marked queen. I did not find her but I did find an unmarked queen sticking her abdomen into the cells. I think it was the queen from yesterday that I think was mated and filled out more than from the day before.

The funny thing is both queen cells were opened from the bottom and were side by side of each other. Is it possible that if they hatched on Monday that they had a mating flight during last week and one was laying by Sunday. The weather has been awesome this week.

Also is it possible that that was a virgin queen coming back from a mating flight as it was about 2 inches from the entrance into the colony when I observes what appeared to be a virgin.

On a side note the queen cell from the frame I removed was hatched on Sunday, August 21st and as of yesterday I have not found her and she is not laying. I have added some eggs and day old brood with no queen cells begin formed so she is present.

Those queens can be interesting and troubling.

I need a good laying queen to get me through winter. The colony has two boxes of drawn comb and I have stolen a couple of frames of brood from other colonies to keep the strength up. I just need that strong queen to start laying for the next month to get them through winter.

What a messed up situation.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

In the second paragraph you mention a marked laying worker (bold). Where does she fit in the story? I’m a little confused.

It is possible that a queen hatched on Monday was laying by Sunday. It’s quick, but it’s possible. And, yes, it’s possible to see a queen coming back from a mating flight. They are hard to spot because they haven’t fully developed their queenliness yet, but I’ve seen them as well.

Regarding the queen that hatched on Sunday the 21st: She may have gotten killed on her mating flight. Things happen. They get eaten by birds, attacked by other insects, get smashed by cars, get blown away–anything could happen. On the other hand, maybe she is just slow to get started. Even though the others were quick to get started, this one may just be slow. I wouldn’t worry about her yet.

You are right, queens are both interesting and troubling. That about sums it up.

Jeff
Reply

My marked queen (white dot) was failing so they colony was superseding. I left two queen cells in the colony. Both opened from the bottom. There was no swarm, that was on Monday August 22. I went in Saturday, August 27th and I observed the marked failing queen and then discovered what appears to be a recently mated queen (not virgin but not fully developed) slowly moving around and inspecting the cells. I tried to remove the marked queen at that point but I couldn’t get her off the frame and I thought she fell back into the colony.

So I decided to go back in Sunday to remove her. When I went back in Sunday to remove the failing marked queen I could not find her, but I found an unmarked queen putting her abdomen into the cells. I assume it was the queen from the day before. But before I found this queen I thought I noticed a virgin queen streak across the bottom board.

What are the odds those two virgin queens are still alive considering both cells were open from the bottom? Could both occupy that colony? The unmarked queen had the worker bees moving away as she walked and bees were attending on her.

I was in Tuesday evening just before dark to look and remove the failing marked queen and mark the new queen. It was 7:00 PM (out of my circumstances) I couldn’t find the queen but there is one there as the colony was very gentle so I plan to go back in this weekend to find her. That being said I didn’t see any eggs either but I think it was really getting to late as dusk was fast approaching. So the eggs may be laid but I couldn’t see them.

I think the colony may have removed this failing queen since the new queen is present as I cannot find the failing queen marked with a white dot.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

I have seen colonies with more than one queen and read about them as well. Sometimes it is a mother and daughter and sometimes sister queens that live together for awhile. As far as I know, this situation is short-term but it may persist for several weeks. I don’t know why it happens, but it does. Eventually, one queen will become dominant and the other will disappear. I have also read that it probably happens more frequently than we realize. Most of us give up looking for queens after we find one, so we are not even attuned to looking for more.

As for eggs, remember that the colony shrinks in size as winter approaches so there are periods when very few eggs are laid. I checked all my hives recently, and I’m hard pressed to find eggs or brood in most of them. During spring and early summer we get accustomed to seeing eggs everywhere, but that just isn’t so during the rest of the year. In any case, you can’t rush motherhood. She will lay eggs when she’s ready.

I wouldn’t be surprised if your white dot queen has been killed by now, or maybe she just died. The completed supersedure cells are a good sign she was failing.

Jeff
Reply

Thanks Rusty,

The goldenrod is only in the middle of bloom here and a couple of the other colonies are still laying really strong. So I was hoping the new laying queens would lay some eggs before winter.

Today I have one of two commercial beekeepers coming to visit my yard today so we’ll do a good inspection at that point and look for queen(s) and eggs.

I have a feeling the white dot failing queen has been made away with. The number of supersedure cells were not as pronounced as with the swarm cells in the other colony in the summer.

I’d love to find the second newly mated queen in there. I have a friend that would like to replace one of his 2-year old queens.

Thanks

Jeff
Reply

Well Rusty,

The white dot queen is deceased, the new mated queen is deceased and there is a virgin in the colony, which I proceeded to mark with a yellow pen. I assume the virgin took the new laying queen out of the picture. So now I am waiting for the virgin to mate as I see dead drones every morning on the landing board. Tick Tick Tick. It’s a race to the finish. For a virgin she is now skitting all around the frames like I have seen with other virgins. It seem like she is inspecting but you can see she has not mated. Hopefully this week.

Rusty
Reply

I wonder who took out the new mated queen. Was she one you purchased? You do, indeed, have queen issues.

Jeff
Reply

The new unmarked queen was from that colony. It was one of the superseded cells. I left two in the box. Both hatched from the bottom. One mated, one virgin. Anyway the virgin is marked and the weather is supposed to be nice for the next few days, rain one evening. Daytime temps in the order of 18-24 C, for the rest of the week. Only thing is there are a dozen or so drones on the front porch every morning.

Phillip
Reply

I still have loads of drones flying out of my foundationless hive, Jeff. If you’re really desperate to mate the queen, I suppose you could haul the whole hive to my backyard and hope for the best.

Hello_Kitty_
Reply

Rusty, when you say a two queen situation is usually “short-term” what does that mean? I want to assume it means the lesser quality (older?) queen will be balled or something. But I know with bees you can’t assume anything. I’m asking because I am curious if a two queen situation could incite the swarm impulse. I am 99% sure the nuc I purchased had two queens, but I’m completely baffled as to why it swarmed. – HB

Rusty
Reply

Sooo interesting. From what I’ve learned and seen, two queens are usually short term because the queen that is being superseded is usually old and/or failing for some reason. As such, her pheromone levels are falling so the impulse to kill her is lessened. Instead of two hormone-laden women living under one roof, you have one and one-not-so-much. This is usually a mother-daughter combo and they can live in harmony for weeks or even months, the older one becoming less and less queenly as time goes by until she dies or is carted away.

Some sources say this arrangement happens much more frequently than we might imagine. However, you are saying you got a nuc with two queens (entirely possible) and you want to know if the two-queen thing caused a swarm. Hmm. Good question. As you know, when you have two strong, viable queens one usually kills the other. I’ve never heard of two queens being the cause of swarming.

The closest thing I can think of is this: Once I had a hive where I had been holding a queenless colony by using QMP (queen mandibular pheromone). I ended up combining that colony with another, and about a week later I hived a nuc in the box where the QMP used to be. (The pheromone had been removed and the box aired out.) About two days later all the bees were gone. Absconded, not swarmed, but I blamed residual QMP for the problem.

So that is similar to queens in one hive. But in your case you say they swarmed, so I’m assuming half left with one queen and half stayed with the other? What if the nuc was ready to swarm before it was closed up for delivery (i.e. they had raised a replacement queen and were ready to roll). But since they were locked up and couldn’t leave, they just waited for an opportune moment? Is that possible?

Hello_Kitty_
Reply

The hive that the nuc was transferred into has foragers returning with pollen. I take that as a sign that there is a laying queen and that all is well. I suppose it’s possible that they are queenless and raising one from one of the few eggs we saw during the install BUT the original queen was captured in a photo taken during the transfer, and she’s NOT the one that went with the swarm. We saw a very different-looking queen in the swarm, so my assumption is the original queen stayed with the parent colony.

I don’t believe the nuc was ready to swarm before it was closed up. The nuc was not crowded at pick-up. In fact, I feel the nuc was light all the way around. (Damn that autocorrect! WordPress keeps changing nuc to nut!) At any rate, there was spotty brood (that’s my untrained opinion) and a decent amount of honey/pollen on 3 frames. Most of the brood was capped, BTW. The 4th frame was barren for all intents and purposes.

I need to ask the nuc producer exactly how he produced it. All I know right now is that his nucs were established for “over a month” before delivery. He’s perplexed, and offered to bring us another nuc. But now I have two colonies to tend to, which brings up another question. I’m feeding both honey. In-the-comb was easiest for me. Is that incorrect? Should I be feeding them thinned out honey?

Rusty
Reply

HB,

Honey in the comb is the best. I’m working on a post right now where I mention that. My colonies fed pure full-strength honey are thriving.

fran
Reply

We are second year beekeepers and this year we put a queen excluder on, but when we went to pull the frames to extract, we had brood in the frames above the excluder. Can the queen get around the excluder or could we have two queens and, if we do, what do we do?

Rusty
Reply

Fran,

If an excluder gets bent even a little, the queen can often get through. Once in a while, you just have a small queen that gets through. Just cut away the parts of the comb that contain brood and extract the rest. I doubt you have two laying queens, but just go ahead and check for any queens before you cut away the brood.

suz
Reply

my friend has a hive that had a queen, and he heard chirping from a queen cell and knew it was going to hatch. So he took the cell out of the hive and it did hatch. He is bringing it to me tomorrow. How do I split my colony and how do I add the virgin queen? This colony is a nuc I purchased mid April, and I provided them with drawn comb and extra honey. I think they are doing well. I think there is maybe 4 frames that have brood and bees on them, just from looking down into hive. I am thinking of putting 2 frames into each hive with drawn comb and some honey. Putting the queen in a cage with a marshmallow, and checking to see if she it out in 3 days. What are your thoughts?

Rusty
Reply

Suz,

Virgins are sometimes hard to introduce. It is best to give them all nurse bees and brood, no foragers. So when you split, leave the queen in the original hive and take some brood and the bees that are covering the brood and put them in the new hive. The foragers will return home. Then add the virgin in a cage. You can use a marshmallow, but I would rather leave her caged for three days and then release her manually.

suz
Reply

Sorry for the duplication of messages. Also, I live in Pennsylvania and think they should have enough time to build up to at least 5 frames by fall, what are your thoughts?

Rusty
Reply

Yes, they should have plenty of time to build up.

Kayson
Reply

Hey am kayson am a small bee keeper in Jamaica and I need some assistance.

Griffin
Reply

Wanted to get your thoughts on something I haven’t seen before but after reading this, perhaps it’s not as odd as I first thought.

Had a hive that failed to successfully requeen itself and had no more eggs to try. After about 3-4 weeks of being queenless including the time they tried to make a queen (they never developed laying workers), I introduced a marked queen. After checking, the marked queen was nowhere in sight but an unmarked queen was. There finally were eggs evident on a couple of frames. I thought I was in the clear. A week or 2 later I found supersedure cells, but left everything alone, wanting them to figure it out. The brood pattern was very poor and only present on 2-3 frames. I concluded the unmarked queen was poorly mated and the colony knew something was wrong.

Fast forward a few weeks and all supersedure cells are gone. There is an unmarked queen present, but the brood pattern is nearly non-existent. Maybe 10-20 random larvae, uncapped, and capped brood and only on 1 frame. Queen was active, but clearly she can’t lay properly. At this point I decided to take 2 frames of eggs from a second hive to make a nuc in hopes of getting a properly-laying queen that I could then combine with the first hive after dispatching the poorly-laying queen.

That 2-frame nuc didn’t survive because it was robbed. Bees 1, Beek 0. So yesterday I grabbed some more egg/larvae frames from the second hive, made a new nuc, and moved it away from the hives to try again.

I then checked the first hive to confirm the poorly laying queen situation hadn’t changed. I found only 1 frame of 10-20 cells with larvae, uncapped, capped brood in them as before. However, I found 2 queens co-existing together in that hive. They both remained on that 1 frame of brood, walking past each other, touching a few times, all the while both inspecting cells. Both have extended abdomens. I didn’t think to take notice if they were backing into cells, but I don’t think so. I think I was too focused on the “you gotta be kidding me” factor.

I’m at a total loss. I get that bad weather could negatively affect a queen on mating flights, but getting 2 queens that agree to live side-by-side and both have issues? That’s got to be some sort of negative record. Is there some other possible explanation?

My plan now is to let the nuc (hopefully) make a laying queen over the next month. At that time, I’d open the first hive, dispatch both queens, put newspaper in there, and combine the nuc to get a laying, single queen, queenright hive.

Was hoping to get your thoughts on my situation. I can send you a few pics if there’s an email available. I would have done that here, but I couldn’t find a way to do that.
Thanks for your time and help.

Griffin

Rusty
Reply

Griffin,

Multiple queens in one hive is not at all uncommon, and they can coexist for months. Most of us don’t notice them because once we find one queen, we don’t look for another. If the pheromone levels of both are low (it’s possible, especially if they are related) it’s even more likely they can coexist.

Also, you can’t read too much into the appearance of supersedure cells. Some colonies routinely build them and take them down. So unless you’re following them carefully, it’s hard to know what’s going on. With new eggs, it will take a while to hatch a virgin queen, and then 2 to 3 more weeks before she’s laying. If you keep stealing brood from you other colonies to keep this one going, you’ll end up weakening all of them. So just be careful.

Whatever you do, you should do soon because it sounds like your nucleus has been without a strong queen for quite a while.

Jeffrey
Reply

Rusty,

I made a split in July to stop a swarm. The nuc did quite well. It is now two 5 frames with two frames not completely drawn out yet. I was doing inspections today and assessing winter stores and came across my marked queen up top. While I was checking the bottom box for brood and stores I noticed a single queen cell on the bottom of one frame, capped, so as I saw the marked queen I removed it and opened it. It was empty. After I replaced all the frames and centered them up a large very fat unmarked queen climbed up onto the top bars, walked around as to show off, and went back down into the next seam. See was very quick but I got a good look at her.

The nuc is boiling over with bees but it’s too late in the season to add new undrawn comb. Should I be worried about a swarm situation? The temps this week are going back into the high 70’s, or should I just let it ride. There is little to no nectar flow as its been so dry, but I do need to feed. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks, Jeffrey

Rusty
Reply

Jeffrey,

Do you have drones in your area? Without drones, the colony won’t swarm because a new queen could not mate.

The other thing about swarms is usually the swarm leaves as soon as the virgin is capped but before she emerges. Bad weather can interfere with that, but it doesn’t sound like weather is your problem.

It’s more likely you just have mother and daughter queens. From what I’ve read, this is fairly common but we usually don’t notice them because once we see one queen, we’re satisfied that we have a queen and we stop looking for more. I don’t know why they come about, but I’ve read they can peacefully coexist for months. Eventually one will prevail and the other will die.

Anyway, that’s my guess. If it were me, I would just leave them alone.

Jeffrey S.
Reply

Rusty,

That is what I was thinking, thanks for the conformation, at worst I have two queens going into winter. I guess that’s not a bad thing. I’ll just keep a close eye on them the next few days, if they haven’t swarmed by this weekend they more than likely won’t, I hope, as I say with crossed fingers. Thanks again!!

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