We had an interesting learning experience the other day, we
Now this was slightly alarming to us, because queen cells indicate that either
1. The hive is over crowded and they are preparing to swarm (see First Beehive split of 2017)
2. Something is wrong with the queen (disease/injury/old age) and she is laying eggs at a reduced rate
Seeing these ‘queen cups’ was an immediate red flag for us because we had our second hive split just two weeks ago. There was no way that our population had grown so quickly in just two weeks that they were already over crowding. So, I did some research and discovered that the bees can do a practice build of queen cells to test their ability to create them in case of an emergency. It is essentially our version of a fire drill.
Just to be safe, we took down the observation hive and opened it up to inspect these cups a little more closely. Sure enough, they were empty. Meaning that the worker bees did in fact do a trial run; the bees are so in tune with each other, that the construction crew and nurse bees were on the same page. The nurse bees knew not to add royal jelly to the bottom of the cell, which is how the queen knows to play an egg inside of a cell.
Instead of carving out these queen cups, we decided to do a little experiment and we left them in the hive. Sure enough, after a few days the construction crew modified the play cups and turned them into brood cells, in which the queen laid fertilized eggs that will soon become the next generation of worker bee!
Such an amazing thing! Even bees have protocols and prepare for worst case scenarios.