As ever when we are having bee troubles, we contacted Dr. Meghan Milbrath for advice. Fortuitously in our area yesterday, she made time for a look at Dorcas for us in spite of this being a busy time at her business, The Sandhill.

She confirmed that there was no sign of an active queen but neither was it a laying worker situation. The bees may not have been as energetic as we have seen them but they did not appear distressed and were moving purposefully. In fact, they seemed to be cleaning out cells in preparation for a queen to lay in them. Around then the Mrs. pointed out a clandestine, capped queen cell along the outside edge of a comb. Dr. Milbrath also drew our attention to the large number of drones wandering about. Although drones may generally enter any hive they wish1, she said that they do not necessarily receive a warm welcome. Their numbers here indicated that the colony anticipated a use for them once a virgin queen took her mating flight.

Dr. Milbrath’s conclusions were that something had indeed happened to the old queen. She may have left with a swarm2 or the colony decided to supersede her. There may already be a virgin queen within but there is certainly one developing in the queen cell. We could add a comb or not but either way, the hive should be not bothered for three weeks. We opted to just move all the empty-celled combs to the one end of the hive, close up, and hope.

1Except for the autumnal purge when they are evicted from all hives. Some strict colonies will also evict them during a nectar dearth.
2Later reading said that bees usually make a large number of queen cells for swarming but make only a few, sometimes even just one, for supersedure.