A bee colony without a queen has no hope for survival without a new queen being introduced to the colony.
Yet the bees can sometimes reject a new queen and kill her before she has a chance to become part of the colony.
The reason for this action is mainly driven by instinct, but is there anything you can do to prevent it?
Why Would Bees Reject A Queen?
Bees reject a queen because they are unfamiliar with her scent of pheromones and view the new queen as an intruder. Since intruders are considered a threat to the colony, the bee’s natural reaction is to kill her as they would with any other intruder in the hive.
In a caste society such as a bee colony, it seems counter-intuitive for bees to reject and kill a queen when the queen is the key to the colony’s survival. But, unlikely as it may seem, it happens in some circumstances.
When a colony rejects a queen, it is due to incorrect practices used by the beekeeper when introducing a new queen to make a colony queen-right.
The worker bees in the colony recognize a queen by her pheromones. These pheromones produced by the queen are unique and are her signature scent.
Suppose the bees in the colony detect an unfamiliar scent or pheromone in the colony. In that case, they will consider the queen a trespasser, and their natural instinct is to kill her.
Consequently, the primary reason a queen is rejected is that she is unfamiliar to the colony, and the bees do not recognize her pheromones. Therefore, her scent is not strong enough for the colony to accept her.
One of the primary reasons for a queen to be rejected like this is when she is introduced to a queenless colony too soon after the death of the original queen.
What Happens When Bees Reject The Queen?
When a queen is scorned by the colony, there is only one outcome; she will be killed by the worker bees in the hive.
The unrecognized queen is seen as a threat, which causes an instinctive defensive reaction in the bees. They will treat her as they treat all other threats to the colony and eliminate her.
Why Do Bees Kill Their Queen?
When the bees kill a queen, it is usually a new queen presented to a queenless hive or if the beekeeper splits the beehive to create a second colony. She is killed because she is considered foreign to the bees and a potential threat.
Bees will generally not kill their own queen, even if they detect she is sick or no longer productive. However, they will notice the change in the queen due to the changes in her pheromone mix and levels, which may trigger certain events in the hive.
But they will still recognize her as the queen.
How Do Bees Kill Their Queen?
The bees’ method of killing a rejected queen is quite interesting and not what most people would imagine.
The first thought many would have is that the bees would sting the queen to death, but this is not their favored method of dealing with an unrecognized queen.
The bees kill the queen by a process known as balling, where the bees cluster tightly around the queen. Many beekeepers believe that the bees are stinging the queen in this tight ball, but this is not the case.
The bees cluster tightly around the queen and generate heat to raise her body temperature until she dies.
How Do You Know If Bees Have Rejected The Queen?
The way a beekeeper can tell if the colony has rejected the queen, besides finding a dead queen in the hive, is to watch the behavior of the bees when the queen is introduced.
To prevent the queen from being killed, it is best to introduce the queen in a cage to assess the reaction of the colony without placing the queen in danger.
Place the queen in a cage on top of the frames in the brood chamber and watch the bees’ reaction as they discover the new queen.
If the colony is not ready to accept the new queen, the workers’ behavior will tell you that she will be killed if released.
If the bees show signs of rejecting the queen, you should remove her from the hive and try again in 12 to 24 hours.
How Bees React When They Reject A Queen
Suppose the colony is not ready to accept the new queen. In that case, the workers will climb on the queen’s cage and grip it tightly, often biting the cage and trying to sting the queen through the cage because they cannot get to her.
They will also swarm around the cage tightly to try balling the queen to kill her. When observing this behavior, pick up the queen’s cage and brush the bees off with your finger. You will find that the bees are clinging so determinedly that it is difficult to wipe them off the cage.
This means the colony is not ready to accept a new queen, probably because the old queen’s pheromones are still potent in the colony.
Remove the queen from the hive and allow another 12 to 24 hours to elapse, further dissipating the old queen’s pheromones in the colony and making them more amenable to accepting a new queen.
How Long Does It Take For A Bee Colony To Accept A New Queen?
It may take 3 to 5 days for a queenless colony to be ready to accept a new queen, but the most common time frame is 3 days. Due to the expense of buying mated queens, many beekeepers wait for 5 days before introducing the queen to ensure there is no risk of the queen being killed.
If the old queen’s pheromones have dropped to a suitable level throughout the colony, the bees will be receptive to introducing a new queen.
Perform another test to see whether the colony is welcoming by placing the queen on top of the frames, still in her cage. Once the bees are climbing over the cage, pick it up and try to wipe the bees off the cage.
The colony is ready for the new queen if the bees are easily removed and not clinging on as if their lives depend on it!
The queen can be placed in the colony in the cage and left there. It will take an additional 2 to 4 days for the bees to eat through the candy plug on the queen’s cage to release her. This will allow more time for the bees to become familiar with the new queen’s pheromones and accept her into the colony.
When she emerges from the cage, the colony will accept her.
Bees reject a new queen because they are unfamiliar with her pheromones and their original queen’s pheromones are still strong inside the hive. Therefore, the bees will see this queen as an intruder and eliminate her if she is released.
The best time to introduce a new queen to a colony and ensure her acceptance is when the hive has been queenless for 3 to 5 days.