We are often asked how to replace a queen and although we’ve tried many ways and often times are doing things more quickly than the average small-scale beekeeper, we figured it was time to write a blog post about it.
There are many ways you can introduce a new queen to a colony and we’ll talk about some of those ways, however, I’ll start by suggesting that a push in cage is the most effective for the best chance of acceptance and queen survival.
A push-in cage is a wire cage made of 8-mesh hardware cloth – it can be easily made into a rectangular shape of any dimension that allows your queen the ability to lay eggs while staying protected by the cage from the bees who may not be ready to welcome her into their colony. The worker bees can continue to feed her through the cage and within a few days, the queen’s pheromones are carried throughout the colony and the bees will have accepted her as their queen.
Other methods for introducing queens:
Roller cage (this is what we use most frequently) – this offers the queen a protected area within her cage but does not allow her to get to work early on laying.
Honey dab – you dab some honey on the new queen to encourage the bees to clean her up – in doing so, they spread her pheromones and will take care of her.
Queen cages – there are so many types – but essentially they work by allowing the bees to eat through a candy to get to the queen. The theory is that by the time they get through the candy, the queen’s scent will be spread throughout the hive.
Straight introduction – this is something that we’ve seen people do, but don’t recommend it unless you’ve got access to a lot of queens. There’s a chance they’ll accept her, but there’s also a chance they won’t – at a higher percentage than some of your other options.
If you haven’t noticed, the biggest drive for queen acceptance is the scent given off by the queen. We’ve seen better luck with quick introduction when the queen is a sister of the previous queen for example. Each queen will smell unique and it’s important for the bees to accept her before she’s left on her own. If the bees do not want to accept a queen, you’ll see balling behavior where they create a large ball around the queen, heating her up (to death).