How Much Time Does a Queen Have to Mate?

Discussion in 'General Beekeeping' started by jajtiii, May 21, 2013.

  1. jajtiii

    jajtiii New Member

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    I've read in various places that a queen takes about a week to get her feet under her and then goes out and mates for a few days. I wonder how true this is.

    I have tested a lot of the 'rules' that are passed down without question and found a good many to be far from dictates (but simply 'best practice'.) The following scenario is a test that I forced upon myself by accident (through a screw up.)

    On Mother's Day, I hived a swarm and had to leave quickly (I had a million things to do, including spending time with my mum). The whole thing probably took 5 minutes. This is a bit unusual for me, as I don't take swarm calls a long way from home and typically hive the swarm on one trip and pick them up after dark that night (or the following night.) In this case, there seemed like a definite 'chance' that I didn't have a queen. As a bit of foreshadowing to what was to come, the landowner (no beekeeping experience, but had googled honey bee swarms before I got there) asked if I thought there were multiple queens in the swarm. Given the size, I advised him that this was probably the primary swarm and only had the old queen...heh, I never learn.

    When I got home, I was a bit rough with the hived swarm (in a hurry...) and set them up quickly on one of my Nuc stands (simply two landscape timbers held up with a couple of cinder blocks.) Before I could get the level out, bees were everywhere and I immediately recognized a swarm mode. I've never had a swarm abscond on me, but I know what a swarm looks like when it issues from the hive. At the time, I was becoming mad at the bees (not very logical, but I remember the emotion), as I was already late for everything.

    I read somewhere (more than likely, these forums) where folks down south use queen excluders because of a proclivity for swarms to abscond down there for some reason. On a whim, I grabbed a nearby excluder and placed it between the bottom board and hive body, squashing a bunch of bees in the process (this caused more frustration, as I figured that I had probably just squished the queen right then, assuming I even had her.)

    I can see the bees collecting on a nearby evergreen, but hope that I have kept the queen in the box and they'll return. Off to the outyards and dear mum! That night, I return and (with flashlight) spot the little swarm still clinging to the tree. It's probably no bigger than a couple of softballs (maybe 1/5 or 1/6 the size of the original swarm.) I shrug and hope for the best - maybe they'll return tomorrow, although I can't figure out how they'll get back to the original hive (which is about 20 feet away) since there is no location imprint yet on any of these bees.

    The next day (this is getting long, I know...) at work, I'm thinking about this little 'swarm' a lot. At lunch, I can't take it anymore and rush home, hiving the swarm in my work clothes, placing it in a small Nuc. I'm relieved that they seem to be going in and figure I'll recombine them with the original when the weekend comes.

    Meanwhile, I've forgotten about the queen excluder....

    On May 18 (6 days after hiving the swarm), I begin to wonder about that swarm and it occurs to me that it would really suck if that hive has a virgin queen (she had to be a few days old before she flew out - add 6 days to that and, 'according to the books' she can no longer mate.)

    I go into the Nuc first and find a full grown queen, eggs and larva. She's been going since I hived them and, I am comfortable saying, is the old queen. Now I'm wondering about the bigger part of the swarm. I go through that hive twice - they are setting up for a queen - storing nectar/pollen around a central, open area in several frames. But, no eggs. On the last pass through, I find the small, virgin queen.

    So, I remove the excluder and now wonder if she will mate. I'll give them a frame of eggs this weekend, just to be safe, but I wonder if Mother Nature will intervene and if there is something (biologically) that takes place once a queen does her orientation flights to 'get ready for mating'. If it really is simply a ticking clock, this queen will not work out. We'll see.
     
  2. pistolpete

    pistolpete New Member

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    seems to me a small virgin queen would have no trouble getting through a queen excluder if she so desired. What I wonder is how you would have ended up with a second queen in the swarm. Seems improbable unless somehow the small swarm was in fact from a different hive.
     

  3. brooksbeefarm

    brooksbeefarm New Member

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    I caught a swarm last year that had two virgin queens plus the old queen. I had set the hive under the bush i shook them off of and waiting for the ones flying around to go in, when i saw guard bees running two virgins out on the landing board, they flew off after a while, probably back to there old home. They were not shown any respect.:grin: Jack
     
  4. tecumseh

    tecumseh New Member

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    most virgins can not pass thru a queen excluder unless she is unusually small or of africanize origin. <it is the width of the thorax that keep a queen or virgin queen from passing thru a queen excluder and not the abdomen... one has a hard shell and does not grow while the other definitely starts out small and grows significantly.

    as to you primary question a virgin queen has about two weeks to get mated. after this time a queen may still mate but she is highly likely to be defective.

    a snip..
    I have tested a lot of the 'rules'

    tecumseh...
    sadly 'the girls' have not. most time the rules are really probability statements about what is most probable and any statement of time is really variable (typically but not always a normal distribution) around some mean (central tendency) calculation. in this case the mean is still the mean but what this suggest is you simply have not captured enough data (experience) to accurately capture the central tendency although you have some idea of the variation around this mean.
     
  5. efmesch

    efmesch Active Member

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    I think what Tecumseh is saying is that, since the bees can't read the literature themselves, sometimes they don't follow the rules we have figured out for them. When they learn to read the rules, they'll probably be better at following them, but till then, expect them to surprise us from time to time.:rolling:
     
  6. jajtiii

    jajtiii New Member

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    Tecumseh was pretty much right on. The queen is laying mostly drone brood with a few worker brood. The bees realize the issue and have started a supercedure cell. I gave them a frame of eggs from one of my good queens just for insurance.

    I didn't kill the errant queen because the colony had become amazingly agitated. I know that the genetics are not generally mean because I still have the old queen laying and building up in another Nuc (they are of average temperament, I'd say.) But, these gals are hopping mad whenever I check them (and I don't have time to suit up, light the smoker and go through all of that to deal with them right now.)

    Bottom line is that I never should have left that excluder on after the first day. I just wasn't thinking (again, always in a hurry to get stuff done....)
     
  7. efmesch

    efmesch Active Member

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    Once again you prove the point about how important it is to have at least two hives, so each one can "cover" for the other. :thumbsup: