Navigate / search

A queen returning from her mating flight

How often are you walking past your hive when a (previously) virgin queen alights on the landing board right in front of you? And how often when she does this do you happen to have a camera in your hand? Okay, the camera was not turned on and the lens cap was still in place. Nevertheless, I was able to get a few pics. Not great, but at least you can see her.

I had split this hive about two weeks earlier and taken the original queen for the split. The colony had been preparing to swarm and a number of queen cells were evident at the time of the split. After that, I had more or less forgotten about it, so it was a real shock to see this queen touch down in front of me. It actually took a moment for the whole thing to sink in.

When I first saw her she still had a mating sign attached to her abdomen, but it was quickly removed by the workers that surrounded her. By the time I got all my buttons and dials in the right place, she was already cleaned up and heading into the hive. Seriously, the whole process was amazingly quick, a matter of mere seconds.

She’s a pretty queen with an interesting pattern on her abdomen. The bees in this hive are basically mutts, crosses between Carniolans and whatever bees inhabit the area. This all happened last month and I haven’t opened the hive since then, but I can smell the strong scent of brood wafting from inside, especially on hot days, so I’m sure she’s doing just fine.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Queen-return-1a
The queen just after the mating sign was removed. The mating sign is the private parts of the last drone she mated with. © Rusty Burlew.
Queen-return-2
The newly mated queen crawling up over the entrance reducer. © Rusty Burlew.
Queen-return-3
The workers gathered around her as she made her way in. You can see a drone on the right. © Rusty Burlew.
Queen-return-4
This queen has an interesting pattern on her abdomen. © Rusty Burlew.

Comments

John Schwartz
Reply

I’ve only witnessed it once in 12 years ― wonderful, mesmerizing sight.

AramF
Reply

Rusty,

What do you mean by “strong smell of brood”? You can detect brood smell? I have only smelled brood in a form of rotting drones taken out of frozen drone frames in front of the hive, so curious what you equate brood smell of healthy brood.

Wendy
Reply

What an amazing experience for you to witness. I love all the valuable information here in your blog. Pictures are always incredible. Learning never stops when working on bees.
Thanks Rusty!

Andy Coombes
Reply

Great pics Rusty – superb.

Ken Rhodes
Reply

How cool is that? (A rhetorical question).
Nice picture especially considering the element of surprise.
Ken

Marysia2
Reply

At the risk of giving some of your male readers the heebie-jeebies for a few days, I think you can refer to the drones “private parts” as genitalia.

Carol
Reply

A very interesting post, in part because I am dealing with many hives which went queenless, (only one successfully requeened, unfortunately) and also because of your comment about detecting the “strong scent of brood.” I didn’t know one could smell brood and I will try to notice that in my future inspections. Nice pictures and yes she has an interesting abdomen!

Greg Smart
Reply

Wow Rusty what great photos of returning queen. How nice of the bees to allow you to see a returning queen ! What a gift !
It is awesome what you do for the bees with your web site.
Thank You for Beeing !

Bill
Reply

Rusty,
Great catch. I am sure you will not have any trouble finding that queen and she looks like a winner.

Bill

Judith
Reply

The one time I saw a queen sporting a mating sign I kind of freaked out, thinking she’d been injured. Had no idea it was left behind by the last drone to get his groove on. Her attendants weren’t in any rush to clean it up.

Philippa Burgess
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I witnessed a queen land on the outside of a queenless nuc and try to make her way into the hive. I’m sure she was the virgin queen that I introduced as she was a lovely caramel colour and the receiving nuclear bees were darker. I was surprised to see her being pulled away and disposed of by the guard bees at the entrance especially as this nuc was hopelessly queenless. No matter how hard she tried they were not letting her in! I scooped her up in a queen cage just in case she was at the wrong nuc. I checked all 3 nucs and this one was the only one without a queen. Any ideas why they wouldn’t let her in seeing as she originated from there and had been out on a mating flight albeit unsuccessfully?
Several other attempts to get her back in failed so she was introduced to a different nuc at another apiary using the queen cage plugged with a bit of candy. Let’s hope they accept her!

Rusty
Reply

Philippa,

Is it possible that another virgin already mated and took over? Or is it possible the colony was producing laying workers?

Barney
Reply

Hi Rusty,
Nice pictures. I left one of my hives for a year now and the only smell i get is the strong smell of honey.

Mike C
Reply

What time of day was it?

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

According to the time stamp on the photo, it was 2:31 pm PST on May 25.

Anna
Reply

Woooow! So cool! I love the pattern on her abdomen.

Barb
Reply

Excuse me if this is a dumb question. But will she be making additional mating flights? Her abdomen doesn’t seem all that long. Is there additional growth that happens after she mates? I.e. additional development of eggs over time? Thank you for your posts! I learn so much from them. And now I’ve got my husband reading them too!

Rusty
Reply

Barb,

She may or may not take additional mating flights; I have no way of knowing. But yes, after mating she matures, produces hormones, and grows into an egg-laying machine. Virgin queens are often quite a bit smaller than mated queens, but it takes about two days for them to mature after mating. For more on this see When will a newly-hatched queen begin to lay?

Jim Harper
Reply

Rusty,

Thanks for sharing this extra special sequence of pictures of a newly-mated formerly virgin queen (now reigning queen of her bee colony) returning to her hive after her mating flight. What a very special insight. Much appreciated.

Q: Do you primarily split hives to prevent swarming?

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Yes. It’s just convenient to prevent swarming and makeup any winter losses all in one step. If I want to maintain a big populous hive, say for comb honey, I just take the queen and a frame or two of brood and put them in a nuc, which still leaves a big colony.

Chini
Reply

Wow so cool that you got pics! I saw the same thing you but without a camera. It feels extremely special. Yay bravo for getting the cam out!!

Brenda
Reply

Lucky you. She’s a beauty.

dan3008
Reply

Wow, that’s amazing. I know some keepers who would pay good money for that queen. But they breed bees for looks as well as behaviour and honey produced.

Arjan
Reply

Rusty. You are amazing. Thank you for your posts. Great.

Kelsey
Reply

While mating will a queen stay away from a hive for more than 24+ hours as she seeks a drone congregation sight?

Rusty
Reply

Kelsey,

No. The queen comes in before dark. If she isn’t sufficiently mated, she will go out again the next day.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website

Beekeeping Will Change YouSee How
+