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A walkaway split and the tiniest queen

A walkaway split is made from a frame of very young brood (eggs and just-hatched larvae), a frame or two of young nurse bees, and a frame of honey and pollen. You put all these in a nuc and just walk away. If all goes well, the nurses will raise a new queen from one of the recently hatched eggs. She will mature, mate, and start laying eggs with no further intervention from the beekeeper. The process can be sped up, however, if the beekeeper adds a ripe queen cell into the mix.

A few weeks ago I set up two walkaway splits from a very crowded hive that was loaded with swarm cells. I put some cells in each nuc, added the nurse bees and honey, and then forgot about them. Last week, when things started looking busy around those nucs, I opened them up to take a look.

One nuc had failed to raise a queen. The capped brood had hatched, which made the nuc appear busy, but it was doomed. I took those bees and combined them with one of the weaker hives.

The second nuc did great. Right away I saw eggs, young larvae, and a flurry of activity. But where was the queen? I couldn’t find her, although she was obviously present. I spent a very, very long time staring at those frames—looking for something “different”—until I finally saw her backing into a cell near the top of one frame.

But calling her a “queen” seemed a stretch—she was the littlest thing I’d ever seen. She’s tiny—no bigger than a worker—although in all other ways she appears queen-like. No wonder I had such trouble spotting her.

Now most literature I’ve read indicates that bigger queens are better queens. For that reason alone I’m very interested in this one. She is so small I wonder how she managed to mate. I wonder why she survived and the other swarm cells didn’t. Did she hatch in time to kill the others? Or did she have to battle it out with (perhaps) a larger virgin queen?

I closed up the nuc and waited another week. Yesterday I found a solid brood pattern, neatly stored pollen and honey, and a vigorous, hard-working crew. In fact, I had to transfer the frames to a full-size brood box in order to accommodate her growing family.

But I still have a lot of questions: Will her offspring be small? Will the colony supersede her because of her size? Will she survive until fall? Will her crew survive the long, wet northwest winter?

This morning I tried to get a picture to go with this post but, alas, I couldn’t find her. Maybe being small has some advantages—like you can blend in with the scenery and never be found. In any case, if I find her again, I will post a portrait of the tiniest queen.

Rusty

Comments

jess
Reply

wow, that sounds so cute. a mini queen! could she have regressed to some size beyond “small cell”? maybe her mom mated with a tiny native bee accidentally and you have a whole new breed on your hands. maybe… oh, i could go all day.

are there any special tricks to moving bees from a queenless hive into a hive with a queen? my “left behind” hive has yet to raise a queen, and i’m wondering if i should combine them with my swarmed hive before they develop a laying worker… beekeeping is proving to be much harder than i expected.

Rusty
Reply

If your queenless bees are in their own box you can lay of sheet of newspaper on the queenright colony and put the queenless box on top. Then make some narrow slits in the newspaper. By the time they get through the paper they will be used to each other. If you don’t have an extra box, you can spray the bees (both sets) with some Honey-B-Healthy mixed into sugar syrup. The smell confuses the issue and they will integrate fairly easily.

Some people just combine them with no special precaution, especially if the queenless group is weak. But I think I’d go with one of the other methods. You don’t want some irritated worker to kill your queen.

jess
Reply

thank you for the sound and excellent advice. they have a few more capped queen cells, but since they have raised something like five queens that resulted in nothing, i am not holding out hope. i’ll give them another week to right themselves and then move around some boxes.

Phillip
Reply

So whatever happened to your tiny queen?

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

She made it for a few months and then got superseded. However, her colony lived on and her offspring seemed to be of normal size.

Peter
Reply

Hey everyone. I’m a new beekeeper, overwintered one hive only in London. Today I captured on my mobile camera something incredible. A week ago I coughs my only hive on the edge of swarming and moved 3 frames with brood and swarm cells to different box. Today inspected my original hive and its full of very busy bees. 5 days ago I recorded my daughter hive virgin queen piping. Today actually by accident recorded with my mobile my new queen coming back from mating flight. She is massive, black and looks very strong. Super excited.

Peter

Marty
Reply

If the split doesn’t work, can you recombine the two halves without any special precautions? Since they were all together at one point?

Rusty
Reply

Marty,

No. You should recombine with newspaper or a similar method.

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