There are two types of queen cells that a hive can produce. Swarm Cells and Supersedure Cells also called Emergency Queen Cells. Knowing the difference can mean a dead hive or a saved hive.
Swarm cells can occur for several reasons, the most popular being either the queen runs out of places to lay eggs or the workers run out of a space to make comb. There are other triggers that can make swarms occur, such as the start of Autumn Olive blooming in the spring and an overabundance of nectar and pollen flows. Swarm cells always occur on the bottoms of the frames in your hive. They are large and very obvious when you have them. They are typically the size of a Planter Peanut. Swarm cells occur because the bees are making a new queen in order to make a split on their own (what we call a swarm). About 3 days before the new queen emerges, the original queen and half the hive will leave (if they do it correctly) to find a new home. Sometimes, they all leave, so fingers crossed, if it happens, they leave you with a viable hive.
Swarm cells are easy to spot. Just lift up your deep boxes on one side and look at the bottoms of all the frames, if you see peanut like wax cells hanging from the bottom, they have started the swarm process. You can't stop it by time this process starts, but you can do a few things to take advantage of the situation.
Take the frame or frames out with the cells on the bottom of them and move them to a new hive. These queens will hatch and you can start a new hive. Make sure the new hive has pollen and honey in it when you transfer the frame with swarms cells on it. It will take some time for this hive to get up and running, but they are pretty good about getting everything setup. Keep an eye on the queen cells and make sure they hatch. Once they have emerged, within a week or two you should start to see eggs and larvae. If you don't, then it might not have worked.
If you don't want to transfer the frames to try and start a new hive, then let them swarm. Keep an eye on them and try to catch the swarm once it leaves to find a new home. Once you catch the swarm, box it up in a new box and let it work on getting organized.
DID YOU KNOW?
It takes about 2-3 weeks for a virgin queen to go through the mating cycle.
It takes about 16 days for a queen to emerge from her cell once the eggs is moved into a new queen cell.
Worker bees take 21 days to emerge once the egg is laid..
Supersedure Cells/Emergency Queen Cells
These cells ONLY occur on the side of a frame. They are not visible from the underside of the boxes. The bees will make queen cells in the sides of the frames out of the wax that already exists. they do this because it is faster to d than building brand new cells off the bottom of the frames. Emergency queens cells mean the hive was not planning on losing or replacing the queen. Something happened, such as you squished the queen when you were in the hive and now the bees are trying to make a new one.
Make sure you know the difference between these two types of queen cells. If you see emergency queen cells on the sides of the frames, DON'T remove them. Don't do anything except observe the process. The bees are not swarming, they are just trying to make a new queen. If you remove those cells or scrape them off, you have destroyed their only attempt at making a new queen.
Make sure you watch the process, because if it doesn't work and they can't make a new queen, you will either have to give them a new queen or more eggs, so they can try again.
I have Swarm Cells, what do I do?
You have a few options, but lets do a few things first.
You have identified that they are in FACT swarm cells and not emergency cells.
Find the queen in the hive. It is very likley that the queen can still be in the hive, even if there are swarm cells.
Are there eggs in the hive?
How many swarm cells are there?
Are the swarm cells capped or are they still open? Can you see up in the cells? Are there eggs in the cells yet?
Now that you have an answer for a few questions, let's talk about options. Please remember, the information below is meant to be used as a guideline. Sometimes, bees do what they want to do and it doesn't always make sense or go the way we were hoping. NOTE: Read all the options before you do anything!!!
If you find the queen AND the swarm cells are NOT capped, scrape the swarm cells off the bottom of the frame. This will help prevent the bees from swarming, because they don't want to swarm if they aren't leaving the right mix behind for the remaining bees to survive.
If the swarm cells are capped AND you find the queen. You can take the frame or frames with the swarm cells on them and put them in a new hive. In this case you leave all the bees on the frame when you transfer them, but make sure you DO NOT put the queen in the new hive, she has to stay in the original hive. Along with the frames with the swarm cells on them, you must also make sure you have a frame or two of brood, and a frame or two of honey/nectar. The new hive has to have enough bees and resources, so when the queen comes out, they can go through the mating cycle and return to a hive ready to help her.
You can pull the frames with the swarm cells out, place them in queen rearing hives, put a cage over each cell and watch for the queens to emerge. When the queens emerge, you can cage them and sell them as virgin queens to other beekeepers who need queens.
If you have capped swarm cells and have NO queen and NO eggs, DO NOT mess with the swarm cells! This generally means the queen has already left. If you scrape the cells off the bottom of the frames now, you will kill the new queen.
Remember: If the hive swarms, it isn't the end of the world... If the bees swarm the right way, they should leave enough bees and eggs behind for the remaining hive to re-queen on their own and survive. The only time you need to panic if you see swarm cells is if you want another hive, so you want to transfer the swarm before it leaves.
As always, there are more details to each of these options, so if you have any questions, feel free to call us and we'll talk to you about it more.
When lifting a deep box up on one side you expose the bottom of the frames. Swarm cells will always be visible on the bottoms of the frames if a swarm is going to occur.
Emergency queen cells will show up on the sides of the frames only. These are NOT caused because of a potential swarm.