Amazing Honeybee Teamwork

In-hive Queen Isolation/Introduction Deep Langstroth Frame
In-hive Queen Isolation/Introduction Deep Langstroth Frame

Honeybees are amazing. Each honeybee is capable of lifting approximately its own weight, but no more. Unlike ants, honeybees will not cooperate to move large objects. Hence, if a rodent invades their hive, and they manage to sting it to death, they are unable to remove the carcass from the hive, so they simply wrap it in a cocoon of propolis, and press on with their other activities. Yet their teamwork in maintaining their hives, building new hives, and the day-to-day activities of gathering food, and raising their brood is positively astounding.

A few weeks ago, we decided to enforce a “brood break” in one of our hives as a control measure against Varroa Destructor. To accomplish that, rather than requeening the colony so late in the season, we decided to capture and isolate the existing queen in an in-hive isolation frame that would prevent her from laying, but would prevent the workers from superseding her because they would still be able to detect the presence of her pheromones. In addition, we removed any queen cells we found during the three-week brood break.

I built the queen isolation/introduction frame shown here to contain the queen during the brood break. Similar frames are available commercially, but the only ones I could find were all Langstroth shallow frames. Since our boxes are all Langstroth deeps, I knew the workers might try to build “burr comb” in the open space below one of the commercial queen trap frames. So I built my queen trap as a deep frame. Well, duh! I forgot about the big open space on the side of the cage.

Yesterday we released the queen from her exile. I found the open area of her cage frame full of beautiful, white, completely empty comb they’ve drawn out sometime since our last inspection the previous week. The open part of the cage frame is about 3.5 in wide by 7 in tall. It was about 3/4 filled with the new comb. I opened up the entrances on the cage and scraped off the new comb before dropping the frame back into the hive. Today I went out to make sure the queen had exited the cage, and to remove the frame if she had. In that 24 hours, they had refilled about half of the open part of the frame with new comb. The queen had indeed left the cage, but a bunch of workers were in there trying to fill up the cage screens with propolis. I sure wish they’d put that much effort into drawing out the new frames we put in a month ago when they had run out of space.

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