Introducing A New Queen Bee To A Queenless Hive (The Right Way!)

introducing a queen bee to a queenless hive

Introducing a new queen to a queenless hive is an important task to master as a beekeeper to ensure the survival of a colony and get your bees back into production. 

Knowing when, how, and why you need to requeen are crucial to understanding the principles to get your bee colony “queenright” again.

How Do You Introduce A New Queen Bee To A Hive?

A new queen can be introduced to a queenless hive in several ways. For example, by the bees raising a new queen, giving the colony a frame from another hive with brood suitable for queen rearing, or purchasing a mated queen. Introducing a foreign queen must be done carefully to prevent the colony from rejecting the new queen.

A bee colony without a queen is like a ship without a rudder or an army without a commander. 

Chaos in the hive is the order of the day! 

The death of the colony is an inevitable outcome unless a new queen can be raised or a new queen introduced to restore order.  

Requeening a colony can be a delicate beekeeping operation that requires careful planning and strategy to ensure success. Sometimes the requeening process is smooth and seamless. Other times you have to work to get the new queen accepted into the colony. 

Yes… It can be a bit hit-and-miss!

All part of the joys of beekeeping 🙂

Will A Queenless Beehive Accept A New Queen?

It is not a done deal that a queenless colony will automatically accept a newly introduced queen. Therefore, the beekeeper must carefully monitor the colony before and after the introduction of the queen. 

Imagine the introduction of the new queen is not going according to plan. In that case, the beekeeper can still employ several strategies to minimize the risk of the queen being rejected.

When And Why Do You Need To Requeen A Hive

The reasons why a new queen must be introduced are many and varied. For example, the queen may have fallen prey to a predator during a mating flight, succumbed to disease, or been accidentally killed by the beekeeper during normal operations.

You may think that a beekeeper accidentally damaging or killing a queen results from carelessness, but as you gain experience, you’ll realize how easily and quickly an accident like this can happen when working in the brood chamber!

For this reason, beekeepers like to find the queen when they open the brood chamber. They then know where she is and can take additional care when working on any frames near the queen.

Some beekeepers will capture the queen in a specialized queen clip and place her to one side while they work in the hive, and return her to the colony once the job is done.

finding the queen bee is essential during inspections

Timing is essential for a queenless hive to receive a new queen. The countdown to the complete loss of the colony starts ticking as soon as the resident queen dies. 

A new queen should be introduced to the colony within a maximum of two weeks to ensure the survival of the colony. But, of course, if the colony was weak to start off with, you might not even have this amount of time.

A new queen needs introducing to the colony as soon as possible to give the bees time to accept her and time for the new queen to start producing offspring. 

However, suppose the queen in a colony has died. In that case, it is important to wait 24 to 48 hours before introducing a new queen to the colony. This delay allows the original queen’s pheromone levels to drop in the hive, increasing the chances the colony will accept the new queen.

Ways To Requeen A Queenless Hive

There are several methods for making a queenless hive queenright. Some techniques require intervention by the beekeeper, while in others, the colony does all the work. Ways to requeen a hive include the following:

  • The bees raise a new queen. If there are fresh eggs or larvae less than 3 days old in the brood box, the bees can raise a new queen by feeding one of the larvae on an exclusive diet of royal jelly. This process is only viable in a strong colony. It takes up to 15 days to raise a new queen from a larva and another week for the queen to be mated and begin laying eggs.
  • Introduce a brood frame with eggs to the queenless colony. If the colony is strong, the beekeeper can take a brood frame from another colony with eggs and larvae and introduce the frame to the queenless hive. The workers will then raise a new queen. Larvae too old to be made into queens will grow into workers that will boost the number of workers in the colony, buying the colony some time.
  • Purchase a mated queen. If the colony is small or weak, you may not have time to let the colony raise a new queen from an egg or larva. The best method to requeen a hive fast is to purchase a mated queen from a beekeeping supplier. The mated queen will be delivered to you in a special cage to protect and transport the queen.

Whichever method is used, the beekeeper needs to act quickly to ensure the colony does not remain queenless for too long. My related article on “How Long Will A BeeHive Survive Without A Queen?” goes into more detail on this subject.

When Introducing A Caged Queen, How Long Can A Queen Bee Live In A Cage

When your caged, mated queen arrives, it is important to introduce her to the queenless colony as soon as possible.

The caged queen has food to eat in the cage. She can last for 7 to 10 days inside. But the longer the delay placing her in the hive, the lower the chances of getting accepted by the colony.

wooden type queen cage

How Long Do Bees Take To Get Used To A New Queen?

When the caged queen is placed inside the beehive, it can take the colony 3 to 7 days to become accustomed to the new queen and her pheromones.

The cage has a candy plug sealing the queen in the cage. The bees will eat through this plug and release the queen. 

This delayed release of the queen helps to prevent queen rejection and the workers from killing the queen as soon as she is introduced. In the time it takes for the bees to eat through the candy plug, her pheromones will have permeated the hive, and the colony will be more likely to accept her.

If the bees have accepted the queen and the plug has not been eaten away, the beekeeper can release her manually by removing the plug.

How To Tell If The Hive Has Accepted A New Queen

If the workers in the colony are clinging to the queen’s cage and trying to sting her, they are not ready to accept a new queen. You can extend the time the queen remains in the cage by replacing the candy plug with a cork.

Once the bees walk over her cage but do not try to sting, the queen can be released manually, and the colony should accept her.

What Do Bees Do When They Don’t Accept The New Queen?

If the new queen is deemed unfit by the colony and they do not accept her, it is essentially a death sentence for the queen.

The workers in the colony will bunch around the rejected queen and sting her repeatedly until she dies. It is generally not possible for a beekeeper to rescue a rejected queen once this attack is in progress.

Another way the colony can kill the new queen is to ball the queen by crowding tightly around her. This action results in the queen overheating, causing her to die.

Reasons Why Bees Won’t Accept The New Queen

Several reasons explain why a colony could reject a newly introduced queen. First, if the queen is introduced too soon after the old queen dies, the residual pheromones from the old queen may still be high in the hive.

In this case, the new queen is seen as an intruder, and she will be killed. This is why waiting 24 to 48 hours before introducing a new queen will reduce the risk of rejection.

Suppose the new queen is unmated or not fully mated with several different drones. In that case, the colony can sense this from the strength of her pheromones. As a result, the colony may consider her inferior, and they will kill her.

What To Do If Honey Bees Don’t Accept The New Queen

If the colony is not readily accepting the introduced queen and seems to be displaying aggressive behavior towards her while she is in the cage. In that case, there are a few steps the beekeeper can take to change the situation.

One of the best methods, in my experience, to get the bees to accept the new queen is to spray the bees and the hive with a 1:1 sugar water mix before introducing the new queen.

The sugar water calms the bees down, and as they clean the sugar water off themselves and the hive, traces of the old queen’s pheromones are removed. This cleansing makes the bees more accepting of the new queen and her pheromones and more likely to receive her into the colony.

Do not spray the queen with the sugar water, as this will dilute her pheromones and nullify the exercise.

Suppose the colony does not accept the queen. In that case, the only other method open to the beekeeper may be integrating the colony with another queenright colony. This action will save the bees and remaining brood and strengthen the colony where the bees are integrated.

Conclusion

Introducing a new queen to a queenless hive is crucial for the survival of the colony. Without a new queen, the colony won’t last more than a few weeks.

Presenting the new queen the right way and spraying the colony with sugar water will increase the potential for the new queen to be accepted and ensure the hive’s survival 🙂

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