The Continued Saga of Queen Hippolyta I

IMG_20220919_125636578The last time I posted about beekeeping, I wrote about making a split and watching the bees rear a new queen for a new colony. That queen, Queen Hippolyta I laid a ton of eggs all summer. Her bees seemed to be slightly meaner than Queen Leslie Knope II’s bees, but the colony was strong. I could hardly ever find Queen Hippolyta (named for Wonder Woman’s mother, by the way) in the hive, so I decided to try to mark her. Thus began a chapter of Queen Hippolyta I’s reign that has been, frankly, kind of unbelievable. 

Queen Marking

On August 17th, I went out for a check of my two hives and brought out the queen marking kit complete with yellow pen for 2022 (queen marking color code) just in case I found Queen Hippolyta. Surprisingly, I did. 

To mark a queen with the kit I have, I was supposed to catch the queen in a clear queen clip, transfer her to a marking tube, shut the lid, gently push her against the screen, then mark her with a paint pen. I was able to get her in the queen clip. That step alone was fairly nerve-wracking because I was afraid that I would decapitate her or injure her in some other way. 

I tried to transfer her into the marking tube and she flew away. I caught her again, off of my arm, and tried to transfer her into the marking tube and she flew away before I could shut the lid. I tried and failed again. This time, I couldn’t find her anywhere and was afraid I was going to step on her. I started cleaning up, trying to move my feet as little as possible and looking at the ground carefully before each step. Then, I saw a cluster of bees on the wrapper from a mite treatment over by my other hive. There was the queen! Foolishly, I tried one more time. She flew away again. I feared I had really lost her, but I hoped for the best. (Video here.)

A New Queen

On August 22nd, I did a hive inspection and saw sealed queen cups. I had lost their queen and they were raising Queen Hippolyta II. On August 31st, I saw that the virgin queens had hatched. I waited a week to check for eggs and saw none. There had been some rainy days and it is getting later in the summer, so I decided to wait a bit longer to check for eggs, but I started to doubt that Queen Hippolyta II would successfully mate and start laying eggs. 

IMG_20220914_130807790Hippolyta Returns

On September 14th, I prepared to combine my two hives if there were still no eggs in The Bee & Bee. Over in my second hive, The Parks Dpt., Queen Leslie Knope II’s colony had few resources and the population did not seem very strong. In The Bee & Bee, they had backfilled the comb and had a mite treatment during the brood break (The Parks Dpt. was also treated), so they were a good candidate for combination with a weaker hive if they were still queenless. They had resources but needed a queen. 

My hive inspection revealed that The Bee & Bee was not queenright, so I proceeded with the newspaper combine. There was one big problem. When I bought my equipment last year, I accidentally bought two different sizes of hive. To combine the hives, I had to move the frames from The Parks Department (a 10-frame) into smaller 8-frame boxes so that they could be stacked on top of The Bee & Bee. It was a bit of a chaotic scene, but I was able to get them combined, remove empty frames for storage, and give them the Apivar-tainted honey that my bees made last year to get them through dearth and started for winter. 

While I was moving frames around, I looked very seriously for Queen Leslie Knope II. It was essential to make sure she was in the right box. I saw eggs, so I knew a queen was in there laying. Her brood pattern even looked better than it had in a while. I couldn’t find her, though, and it made me nervous. Before I closed up the combined hive, I checked once more on the frames from The Parks Dpt. and all of a sudden there was an unmarked queen on one of the frames. She looked just like I remembered Queen Hippolyta I looking. What in the what!?

I closed up, stunned, and went inside to look at some pictures from previous hive inspections. I am pretty certain that this queen is actually Hippolyta I. I really wish I could ask the bees some questions, but it seems like what must have happened is that when she flew off, annoyed, she went to The Parks Dpt, who had been playing with replacing Queen Leslie II all summer, and they accepted her, the stronger queen, and dispatched Queen Leslie Knope II, God rest her. I last saw Queen Leslie II on August 4th, but at no point did The Parks Dpt. have a brood break that would have indicated queenlessness. Queen Hippolyta II must have either been killed in a battle royale when she hatched, died during a mating flight, or had some other end. Now, Queen Hippolyta, I was back to rule The Bee & Bee. I never could have predicted this turn of events. (See video of the combination here.) 

IMG_20220919_130510177Queen Marked

On September 19th, I went to check on the combined Bee & Bee with my friend Allison, who was visiting from out of town. The goal, aside from showing her the bees, was to see if the bees had completed the newspaper combine by removing the newspaper between hive boxes, and then to put the boxes back in the correct order if they had. 

Everything was going fine, the bees had accepted each other, and then a medium honey super fell off my little side table. Bees were ejected from the box but overall did not seem as angry as I expected them to be after that happened. As I assessed the damage, having sent Allison across the yard in case the bees wanted to sting in retaliation, I saw a small cluster of bees behind me on the board I stand on during inspections. My heart dropped. 

As I thought, the queen was on the ground with attendants around her. I could see that she was breathing, though. I held my own breath as I gently scooped her up. She did not appear to be injured in any way. Just stunned, maybe? I observed her and the bees around her. They were loving on her and she got to her feet and moved around. I could see that her legs and wings were uninjured. She looked perfect, but she wouldn’t get off my glove. It was so strange. For the longest time, she just groomed herself and walked around. (Video here)

The bees were calm, so I called Allison back over to see the queen. I had her find my yellow paint pen in my toolbox and get it primed. It had dried out pretty well from the heat in the last month, but I gave myself one shot to gingerly mark this queen while she stood on my glove. I did it! I couldn’t believe it. Because the pen was dry, it’s not the neatest marking, and I won’t be surprised if the bees groom it right off her (they started immediately), but I got her marked, just over a month after this whole twisted story started. 

It took the longest time for Queen Hippolyta to go back into the hive. I had to transfer her from my glove to my hive tool and kind of tap her off of that onto a frame. She went in though. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the next time I check she is still laying a strong brood pattern and yesterday was just a strange episode in her life. Long live the queen.

Rest in Peace, Queen Leslie Knope II. I really was fond of you, but with her amazing survival skills, Queen Hippolyta I has risen in my estimation.



The Saga of Queen Hippolyta I


Queen Hippolyta I

When a colony of bees makes it through winter and their population has rebounded, one of their first instincts is to swarm. A swarm of bees is how the colony reproduces itself. They raise a new queen, fill up on honey, and then leave with the old queen and about half of the colony’s population. There is an astounding amount of information about how bees make decisions in the swarming process found in Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Dyer Seeley. In a nutshell, they land someplace nearby, often a tree, and then send scout bees to find a new place to live. The scouts come back and use the famed waggle dance to explain the location of the new home they’ve found. Whichever bee has the most workers join them wins. The survival rate for swarms is not great—there are so many natural and manmade dangers for them—and they might decide that their new home is your neighbor’s crawlspace, so for the suburban beekeeper, preventing swarms is part of the job. If you see a swarm, don’t worry, Because swarms are homeless, they don’t have any resources to defend and are not dangerous. Call your local beekeeping association, and a beekeeper will be thrilled to capture the swarm and put them in a hive. Free bees! 

IMG_20220511_133445434 (1)One way to prevent your bees from swarming is performing a split, which is essentially an artificial swarm. When I last posted about beekeeping I was on the fence about if/when to split my hive, but decided to do it after a nudge from our friend Rachele (thanks!). I would have liked to keep Queen Leslie Knope II in the Bee & Bee for purely superficial reasons, but in order to have the best chance to prevent that colony from swarming, I moved her. The idea is to move about half of the bees over to a new hive, with some resources and empty space, so that they feel like they have swarmed, keeping them from actually running away. I performed this split on May 10th and am calling their new hive The Parks Dpt. 

In the Bee & Bee, I had to be really careful to leave frames that had fresh eggs on them, so that the remaining bees could raise a new queen. Right after an egg is laid, it stands up on end, like a grain of rice. Over the next day or so, it starts to tilt over to about 45 degrees. On day three, it hatches. Within the next three days, the larva that hatches either can or cannot become a queen, depending on choices made by the nurse bees. I held the frames up to sunlight to get the best view, making sure they had eggs. 


Emergency Queen Cups with Larva

I checked back three days later, just to make sure that they had started raising an emergency queen, and found a frame with nine queen cups on it, and I could see larvae in a few of them. I stopped my inspection there, to prevent accidentally damaging any potential queens. More experienced and/or less nosey beekeepers might not check on their splits as much as I did. Once I saw the queen cups, however, I left the hive alone until after 15 days had passed, on May 25th. 

A virgin queen hatches after 16 days. When I made the split, I saw eggs, so I knew that they were between 1 and 3 days old. I did not know how old the eggs that the bees made into queens were, so I did my inspection in the middle of the window, in the very slim hope that I might be able to see one hatch. Once a queen bee hatches, typically, she will find all the other queen cups and sting the queen pupa inside of them, so she’s the only one left. If more than one hatches at the same time, they fight it out. In Honeybee Democracy, Seeley suggests that the workers might sabotage one of the virgins if they think the other is better.

 When I opened the hive, I could see that the queen cups had hatched and some of them had been torn open at the side. It looked very much like some kind of battle royale had gone down. I also found a couple of partially destroyed queen cups that still had queen larvae in them, just not fully developed. I gently opened them the rest of the way and was able to glimpse what a developing queen looked like at different stages. It was sad, but also beautiful, thinking about what each of those baby queens could have been, had they been the one who ultimately became queen of the Bee & Bee. Wistfulness aside, it was clear to me that, unless she had been wounded or killed in a fight with other hatchlings, the Bee & Bee had a virgin queen among them. Within four days, she would be ready for a mating flight. 


A hatched queen cup

A queen bee leaves the hive just once (unless the colony swarms) to mate with drones. On her mating flight, she will mate with an average of 12 drones. This mating is essential to the genetic health of the colony. A queen won’t mate with drones from her own colony. Assuming she survives the flight, a queen should start laying eggs in around two weeks. So the earliest I expected to see eggs was June 2nd. 

I did a hive inspection on the 2nd, holding my breath a bit. I saw eggs on the second frame I pulled from the upper brood box. They were perfectly placed, one egg per cell. I almost couldn’t believe it. As if that wasn’t good enough, moments later, I saw the newly mated queen on the frame. It was a magical moment. Bees are amazing. This new queen is named Queen Hippolyta I after Wonder Woman’s mother. 


Queen Pupae at Different Stages

I wasn’t able to get my camera open fast enough through my sticky gloves, so I didn’t get a photo of her that day, but today, a week later, I was able to find her again and get some photos and video. She is a beautiful queen bee and is already laying tons of eggs, taking after her mother, Queen Leslie Knope II. 

Speaking of, Queen Leslie Knope II is reigning well over The Parks Dpt. They aren’t working on swarming, are building out comb in a second box, and the population is booming. I got some video today of her laying eggs. Again, the only word I can think of is magical. I will be posting that as a reel over on our Instagram soon. 

Making this split was an utter thrill and I am so happy that the Bee & Bee was able to make a queen successfully, even with a sudden late-May snowstorm. I hope soon they ramp up comb production so that they can start making honey, too.


Queen Hippolyta I



Queen Leslie Knope II laying an egg

The Saga of Queen Leslie Knope II

IMG_20211005_101958753_HDR (2)I mentioned briefly in an earlier post that my beehive lost its queen after a Formic Pro treatment. I had suspected for a few weeks prior that the queen was getting weak, but as it’s my first year, I wasn’t sure if she was slowing down because it was summer dearth or if it was a problem. The hive had made moves to replace her before, and I thwarted them. Because she was unmarked, I did not know how old she was. Looking back, I should have either requeened the hive earlier in the summer or let them requeen themselves. When I removed the Formic strips and did a hive inspection in the last week of September, I found many supersedure cells. I stopped counting at 12. That late in the season, however, it was too late for them to raise a new queen and get her mated. Thanks to the advice of a couple of other local beekeepers on Instagram (Thank you!), I moved quickly to find a new mated queen. I couldn’t find one locally anymore, so I was able to get one shipped from California. Thankfully, she arrived safely. 


Queen Leslie Knope I

While I was waiting on Queen Leslie Knope II to arrive from California, I had to deal with the mess in the hive. I inspected the frames to cut out the supersedure cells. I saw a lot of eggs, but at the bottom of a few frames, there were multiple eggs in a cell, all at the back. It was perplexing. For some background, the presence of the queen’s pheromones suppresses the ability of worker bees to lay eggs. If a hive has been queenless for a bit, some of the workers may start to lay eggs. The problem is that they are unmated and so they can only lay eggs for male bees—drones—whose only job is procreation (and sometimes heat regulation) so in the fall they are so useless that before winter the workers evict them entirely. A laying worker bee also doesn’t have the long body needed to lay an egg in the back of a cell, where it belongs, and she generally lays multiple eggs per cell. Once the eggs hatched and the workers capped the cells, I saw that the hive was full of drone larvae. But it had looked so good when it was in the egg stage. It is also possible that before a queen bee dies she runs out of stored semen to fertilize eggs and only lays drones. I wast not sure if what I saw in the brood nest was a laying worker or a dying queen. 

IMG_20210927_094740441 (1)

Supersedure Cells.

Either way, I had to find and dispatch Queen Leslie Knope I before introducing her successor. If the queen was already in the hive, the bees would most likely reject the new queen, killing her. Or the two queens could do battle, possibly leaving me with the failing queen again. Queen Leslie I was on the smaller side and unmarked. I had not been able to find her in previous inspections, although I did find her in a couple of photos over the summer. I did careful searches for her on consecutive days and never found her. I also never found fresh eggs, which told me that she was likely dead already. 

Then, there was the question of the laying workers. If I had laying workers, it also increased the likelihood that the hive would be hostile to the new queen. I still wasn’t sure if I had laying workers or not. The absence of new, messy eggs leaned toward not. But, to be safe, I thought I should intervene. I read that one way to deal with laying workers is to shake the frames of bees out about 100 feet from the hive. Laying workers are usually, but not always, nurse bees who have not left the hive to forage yet. The theory is that if you shake a laying worker out away from the hive, she won’t be able to find her way back. It felt kind of mean, but the hive is really a superorganism and it’s not worth risking the whole colony for a few bees. So, I shook out the brood nest away from the hive. I don’t really know if that did anything other than making the bees angry. Based on subsequent reading I did, though, I am pretty sure that I had a drone-laying queen, not laying workers.

IMG_20211005_102708275By the time Queen Leslie II arrived, I was as confident as I could be that Queen Leslie I was no longer in the hive. Even still, I spent some time observing the bees’ attitude toward their new queen before I left her in the hive. When you order a new queen, she comes in a little cage with a few attendant bees who are there to care for her. One end of the cage has fondant for the bees to eat and the other has a candy plug that the bees will gradually eat through to release her into the hive. This slow-release mechanism allows the queen’s pheromones to circulate through the hive before she is loose, helping the hive to accept her as their queen, and not immediately ball and kill her. Usually the candy plug is reinforced with a cork, which you pull out before putting the cage in the hive. When Queen Leslie II arrived, I set her on top of some frames for a while and watched how the bees approached her. They were not at all aggressive. Workers came up to the cage and crawled around it, but none were trying to sting her through the mesh or trying to ball her. So, I left the cage suspended between two frames in the brood nest. (Full disclosure: I accidentally hung it upside down, so I had to go in the next day and flip it. If one of the attendats had died in the meantime, it could have possibly plugged the exit. Oops.) Some people encourage beekeepers to remove the attendant bees before placing a queen, as the presence of strangers can cause aggression in your workers. I read that the queen’s pheromones cover these workers too, so it shouldn’t really be a problem. Additionally, as a new beekeeper, I didn’t want to run the risk of losing or injuring the queen while removing the attendants. 


Queen Leslie Knope II at work in the hive

I installed the new queen on Wednesday, October 6. Because it was so late in the season, I wanted to get her laying eggs as soon as possible, so on Friday, I went back to check how things were going. The bees were still not aggressive toward her and they had started to eat through the candy. I spent some more time watching them. I tested their response by brushing them off the queen cage—the brush test. They were easily brushed away, which was the result I was looking for. So, I took a small nail and punched through the candy plug. She was out. 

A week later, I did a hive inspection and there were a few eggs, but not many. I felt so anxious about the hive at that point. I was afraid that they couldn’t get a good cluster going before winter. But, the next week, my hive inspection revealed many more eggs. The drones that Queen Leslie I left behind were hatching out and Queen Leslie II had the beginnings of a healthy nest of workers. Now, a month later, the hive is booming with bees. This warm fall has helped, no doubt.

IMG_20211018_141426793_HDRIt is not unusual for hives to try to replace a new queen. During that first hive inspection after installing her majesty, I again found supersedure cells. I cut them out, and scolded my workers a bit. During the first weekend of November, I was doing a hive inspection on an unseasonable 70-degree day, and found a swarm cell—with a larva in it—on the bottom of one frame. That there was only one, and that it was there so late in the season was confusing, and frustrating to me. Before I could even decide what to do, I accidentally smashed it while moving the box it was in. My latest, and last, hive inspection showed no signs of them trying to replace Queen Leslie II, who is still laying like a champ. I expect that as the temperature drops, she will slow down. In the meantime, it has been an absolute treat to have a marked queen. I can always find the queen now and I am delighted every time I see her. 

Long live Queen Leslie Knope II. 

Helpful Resources on Re-queening

Barnyard Bees: How to Tell if Bees will Accept a New Queen

Barnyard Bees: How Bees Act When They Reject the Queen

Bee Culture: Laying Wokers. It Happens. Fix It. 

Honey Bee Suite: How to Fix a Laying Worker Hive

Backyard Beekeeping: How Many Days after Requeening Should I Expect to See Eggs