It’s bee season again! As your going through your hives, you may notice they are putting on queen cells. There are three types of cells you will see: Swarm Cells, Superscedure Cells, or Emergency Cells.
The swarm cell is typically the one you will see. This type cell is an indicator that your hive is preparing to swarm. The beehive is a super organism, and bees are eusocial. This means that each individual bee can not survive on its own for very long. Superorganisms reproduce in different ways. Honey Bees do this by swarming. They will raise a new queen, and after that queen hatches, the old queen and a number of the worker bees will leave the current hive in search of a new home. Swarm cells are typically located on the bottom of frames or around the edges. There can be several in a hive at one time.
Supersedure cells are different. These are made to replace an existing queen. Sometimes the hive views the queen as inferior. There are many reasons for this. I have had hives do it when I put in marked or clipped queens. Sometimes they do it when the think she is not laying enough brood, or is not mated properly. These cells can be anywhere on the face of the frame. Typically there are 1-3 at a time. There has been some debate over whether the workers put the eggs in, or if the current queen lays in the cell cup.
Emergency cells are easy to spot. They are made in the absence of a queen. The worker bees realize there is no queen within an hour. They respond by selecting a couple of eggs that are the correct age. The reform the wax around that egg into a queen cell. These cells can be anywhere on the frame, and are usually somewhat recessed into the frame. There is some debate over the quality of these queens. However, I have had some good success with emergency queens. I raise some of my own queens, and when the season is over I purchase them. However, sometimes a quality queen from a reputable source is not available. So I let thousands of years of evolution do what it has learned to do.
Recognizing what type of queen cells are in your hive can help you to make decisions about your hive. Sometimes it can mean the difference in whether or not you loose the hive. If you are new to beekeeping, and are unsure, ask your mentor, or take a picture and send it to another beekeeper to find out what’s going on.
Remember, swarm cells are a great time to make increase. If you have a good supply of brood, honey, pollen, and bees you can make at least one split with a swarm cell.