Monday, May 30, 2011

The Difference Between Drone and Queen Cells

My first year beekeeping I remember nearly swooning when I opened the hive and saw many large capped cells at the bottom of the frames.

Oh, no! Queen Cells, I thought.

They weren't. They're drone cells.

Drone cells are large with cupped tops, almost like bullets. The cells are larger to accommodate the bigger boys. You'll often see them sticking out of the middle of a frame. They look like large golden muffin tops.

When there's a bit more space in a hive and the bees build burr comb the queen will often sneak in there and lay drone eggs. You'll lift off a super or a deep and see clumps of comb along the bottom or stuck to the bars of the box underneath. These cells often get torn apart when you separate the boxes, spilling fat white drone pupae out.

These cells can be worker cells too but most often it'll be drone comb. This is when you get your hive tool going and scrape them off.

If it's honey in these combs you can lay it out on the front stoop and the bees will happily lick them clean. I think they might even take some of the wax back to reuse too, but I'm not certain about that.

When I first starting beekeeping I had a difficult time telling the difference between drone and queen cells. But they're not hard to tell apart because they are different.

Queen cells always point downward. They look just like a peanut textured finger pointing down. If you tip the frame upside down you can look inside and you'll often see a large pool of royal jelly and a larvae inside. The nurse bees will be tending it carefully and often their bodies will be clumped all over this cell and you'll need to ask them to move so you can see.

[Photo - two drone cells and a cluster of four are to the right - notice their position is the same as worker cells.  The large queen cell is far left, pointing down.]

Queen supersedure cells are customarily positioned at the halfway point on the frame and swarm cells are positioned at the bottom. But either way, the cells always point down with the opening underneath.

[Photo - The bottom of the frame, looking up.  The queen cell is not capped yet and faces downward.  The large bullet-like drone cells are sticking out from both sides of the frame.]

Queen cells are larger than drone cells too. Often hives will keep a couple of "queen cups" around. These are starter queen cells which look like the bowl of a tea cup. If these cells are around don't panic... but if there's an egg in one then you'll know the bees are getting serious about swarming/superceding.

An easy way to check a hive to see if there are swarm cells at the bottom of the frames is to tip your boxes up and look underneath.  This saves you having to pull each frame one by one to check.  Sometimes when a frame is pulled these queen cells break open or get crushed.  That could be a good or bad thing, depending on whether the bees need a queen.

[Photo - this is a queen cell with a live queen jiggling inside it.... but more on that story next time...]

I hope this is helpful to the other beginners out there.


Knatolee said...

Great explanations! I like the tip about tipping the box to look for queen cells.

Anonymous said...

Thanks - this helps tremendously - the photos and descriptions are excellent for me.I am a novice keeper and my hives swarmed the past 2 years. Also helped me understand the burr comb; I battled these for several weeks this year.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! This is the clearest explanation I have seen. Very helpful