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More About Installing Packages – Dead Queen or Drifting/Absconding Bees

Dead Queen

One of the things that’s come up recently is the knowledge about the possibility of your package bees having more than 1 queen. Packages come with 3 main components.

  1. About 3 pounds of bees that are loose in the cavity of the package container.
  2. A queen and attendants in a queen cage that is often suspended in the package or at least accessible to the other bees.
  3. A can of syrup to feed the bees while they are in the package.

When bees are shaken for packaging, it’s a fast operation. Sometimes a queen gets missed in the inspection and may end up in the package with the loose bees. Or sometimes a virgin queen has emerged and isn’t found so ends up in the package. (Note: Virgin queens are much harder to identify than a mated queen because they don’t have that big abdomen yet.). If there is a queen — virgin or mated — in with the loose bees, they will kill the queen and attendants in the queen cage because they already have a queen.

So how do you know? With the most common packaging, here’s how you view the queen cage.

So, if you find that your queen and attendants are dead, first you need to make sure you don’t already have a queen. You may need to call in a more experienced beekeeper to help. If you get a new queen and they have a queen, they’ll kill her too.

Apparently this is not as uncommon as we might think, so something to consider.

If you have the newer plastic container where you can view the queen without opening the package, there’s a pretty good chance the distributor will have replaced the dead queen with a new one, so you will most likely not find out for a few days. You can see a video that shows this new plastic packaging [ here ].

Drifting and Absconding Bees

One of the biggest complaints around installing packages has to do with bees absconding after they installed or in cases where more than 1 package is being installed at the same time, bees drifting from 1 hive to another so you end up with a hive with a lot of bees and another with hardly any bees.

Here are some recommendations to help with both of these situations:

  • To help keep bees from absconding, add some drawn comb to the box. It doesn’t take a lot to make the bees feel at home. Sometimes even a couple of chunks of used comb attached to frames will be enough.
  • Add Honey-B-Healthy to the food you are feeding the new package. The lemongrass is an attractant that is used to attract swarms and calm bees, so this can help the bees feel more at home and may also increase the chance of them accepting the new queen. If you don’t have Honey-B-Healthy but you do have lemongrass oil, put a little on a paper towel or even a q-tip and put that in there with them. Note: if using Honey-B-Healthy in food, it’s probably best to not use too much and also feed inside of the hive. Since it’s an attractant, it can also attract robbing bees.
  • We know that bees use landmarks to help them find their hive, so put something different in front of at least 1 of your hives with new packages so foraging bees coming back will have a little more guidance. One suggestion is to put a branch in front of the hive — push it in the ground and make sure you aren’t blocking the entrance. The idea is to give the bees different focal points to identify their hive.

Do you have other tricks you use? Please share in the comments below or send them to me to add at amy@bumblingbeekeeper.com.

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