Introducing Queens: Part 1 & Toxic Wax

Friday 7 August 2020

Introducing Queens - Part 1

In the Maritimes, beekeepers often split overwintered colonies to increase numbers, particularly before sending them to blueberry pollination. Often these splits receive queens, imported from countries having earlier availability due to warmer climates.  Later in our season, beekeepers split colonies again to prevent swarming or to make nucleus colonies. To provide queens to these summer splits beekeepers can raise their own, buy local from queen breeders, import from other countries, or re-queen with queen cells. No matter the source, buying or raising queens is expensive and time consuming so finding a successful way to introduce new queens to colonies is important.

Factors that affect the acceptance of a new queen into a colony: condition of the existing queen (age, fecundity, pheromones), condition of the new queen (age, health, time spent not laying, genetics, pheromones), characteristics of the colony (aggressiveness, genetics, ratio of young to old bees, presence of laying workers) and the environment (season, forage availability, climate).

Queens disperse pheromones throughout a colony. Introducing a new queen while the previous queen’s pheromones are still strong may lead to failure in the acceptance of the new queen. Therefore, the first step is to remove the existing queen, or if making a split, make sure the new split is queen-less. Also, confirm there are no queen cells in the hive. To ensure the split does not start making emergency queen cells, use capped brood instead of young larvae/eggs in making the split. Nurse bees accept new queens more readily than older bees, so it is best to make sure the new split colony has a lot of young bees from brood frames. There is some discrepancy on how long a colony should be queen-less before introducing a new queen, but 24 hours is a general rule.

General rules to follow to maximize queen acceptance

The colony must be queen-less

The colony cannot have queen cells

The colony cannot have laying workers

The colony must have young nurse bees to feed the queen

There should be a nectar flow, if not, provide sugar syrup

The new queen should be in as good or better health than the old queen

Stay tuned! Next week there will be more on introducing queens as part of our practical queen management segments.

Toxic Wax - Another reason to consider rotating out your old comb!

It is recommended to rotate old comb out of your operation regularly to maintain healthy bees.  Replacing old frames every four or five years is more or less accepted by our region’s beekeepers but how many of us follow this as best practice?  New research out of Belgium* may provide additional motivation to refresh your comb.  Many of the chemicals that bees are exposed to will accumulate in  wax.  Lipophilic (i.e. fat loving) chemical pollutants will build up in the wax over time and increase the bee’s exposure to these potentially dangerous compounds.  This new research shows that all wax contains toxic pollutants with cappings (new wax) having the lowest levels (see figure 1.).  In total, this nation-wide study found 54 pesticide and veterinary drug residues in bees wax.  Chlorfenvinphos (an insecticide and acaricide) levels were modeled and these were determined to possibly influence bee mortality.  This group is also developing an online tool, BeeToxWax, available to beekeepers to estimate levels of contamination of beeswax.  Beekeepers who wish to test their wax for contamination can use their results to determine the overall toxicity of their wax.  You can view the tool at

Figure 1. Graphic abstract Pesticide and veterinary drug residues in Belgian beeswax: Occurrence, toxicity, and risk to honey bees

*El Agrebi, N., Traynor, K., Wilmart, O., Tosi, S., Leinartz, L., Danneels, E., de Graaf, D.C. and Saegerman, C., 2020. Pesticide and veterinary drug residues in Belgian beeswax: Occurrence, toxicity, and risk to honey bees. Science of The Total Environment, p.141036.

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