Last Updated on October 20, 2021
In this article, we take a look at what happens if you kill a queen bee. Killing the queen bee can occur by mistake or on purpose. We will take a look at what happens when the queen bee dies, and look at how we can use these changes in the hive to our advantage.
What Happens When The Queen Bee Dies?
The queen produces pheromones which give her reproductive control over the workers. These pheromones spread through the hive and suppress the ability of the workers to lay eggs. They also suppress the ability of the workers to raise queen cells.
When the queen bee dies, this triggers a cascade of events. The levels of queen hormones in the hive will drop. The bees will then search for young worker eggs or larvae to start to rear emergency queen cells. These queen cells will produce a queen, and that queen will requeen the hive and normality will resume.
Learn more about: Queen Cell Stages
However, if this emergency replacement queen dies as well, there will be no new eggs to rear a new queen from. In this situation, the workers will develop ovaries as there has not been any queen pheromone to suppress this process. In the case of the majority of bee races, bar one, the workers will develop ovaries and lay unfertilized drone eggs. In the case of Apis mellifera capensis, the weirdest of all honeybees, the workers will lay fertilized eggs that are pseudoclones of themselves.
We do not have the space or time in this article to go into the Cape Honeybee and how fascinating it is.
What Happens If You Kill A Queen Bee?
There are two scenarios where this may happen. If you kill the queen bee on purpose. Or if you kill the queen be by mistake. Let’s explore these one by one.
What Happens If You Kill The Queen Bee By Mistake?
There are a number of ways we can accidentally kill the queen. When you move frames around, sometimes the queen can do something silly and run to the edge of the frame. When you insert the frame, and you hear a crunch, that could be the queen.
Once I had an embarrassing moment when I felt something on the back of my head chewing my hair. I reached around and squeezed the bee and removed it from my hair. A bee in the hair will always sting you. But to my dismay, I saw a dead queen in my hands!
I have also seen a queen fly away from a hive when you work the hive. A queen is a poor navigator, and when she flies away, she basically has no idea what is going on. If this does happen, try and stand next to the hive for five or so minutes and you may be lucky – she will return. If you move around, she will not remember where she left from as the “landmarks” (you) have moved.
If you kill the queen by mistake, the bees will rear a new queen. Your hive will basically lose three and a bit weeks of egg-laying from the queen and will then requeen and rebuild. In most cases, this disturbance will cost you, honey.
How To Kill A Queen Bee On Purpose
For some reason, I hate killing a queen bee. But there are times when you must do this. The easiest method is to just take her between your fingers and crush her. Once for a research project, we had to kill the queens in fifty hives. By the time we got to the last few beehives we had a swarm of drone bees following us as they could smell the queen pheromones.
If you do not wish to crush a queen, just catch her and then place her in a bottle and put her in the freezer. This will kill her in a humane fashion. That said, I have frozen a queen bee in a bar freezer and then placed the “dead” queen outside and seen her wake up and walk away. If you use this method use a proper freezer that really freezes to a low temperature to ensure she is dead.
There are times when with certain bee management styles, you will work through all of your hives and kill the queens. A day or two later you come back to the hives and insert mature queen cells, or mated queens in queen cages to requeen the hives.
An Interesting Experiment To Do, If You Need To Kill A Queen
I remember once walking through an apiary with my beekeeping mentor, who was a scientist. We were removing queens from hives to watch and measure the changes in pheromones in the hive. He took a queen and said watch this.
He held the queen gently in his hand and placed her near the lid of an adjacent hive. There was a small crack in this hive and there were two guards at the entrance of the hive. These specific bees were Apis mellifera scutellata, one of the more jumpy races of African bees. Within seconds, the workers swarmed out into his hand and stung the queen to death.
He explained to me that African bees sometimes do this sneaky thing where a queen bee and a small army of workers will land on the side of another hive. In the evening these so-called “trek swarms” will send a commando of workers into the hive and kill the queen. The new queen from outside then stealthily enters the hive. Surrounded by her assistants and she can now take over the hive.
In this regard, these bees have a particularly acute response to an unguarded queen that is found on the outside of a hive. Try this with your bees in your area and see what happens!
We hope this article has helped you understand why and how to kill a queen. It is a horrible job, but if you have to be an assassin of royalty in your apiary, you have a job to do – you own revolution. Enjoy and share.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.