Queen cell destruction

During swarming, emergency queen rearing and supersedure excess of queen cells is produced. Many of the queen cells are destroyed before queens emerge from them. The queen cells can be destroyed either by queens or workers.

Most of capped queen cells are destroyed by young queens. They patrol the nest in search of queen cells to kill rival queens while they are vulnerable. After discovering a queen cell young queen starts to move faster and its body (especially thorax) temperature increases markedly [1]. The queen cuts a small hole in the side wall of the queen cell [2] (which can take 35 minutes [3] from [4]) and stings unemerged queen [5] but see [2]. Destruction of the queen cell is completed by workers [2]. The queen can perceive presence of unemerged queens thanks to both pheromones and comb vibrations [6]. The queen first destroys queen cells just before emergence and later destroys queen cells with younger brood [2][4][7]. By doing this she minimizes risk that other queens emerge during destruction of consecutive queen cells. There is a range of substances which can be used by queens to perceive presence and age of unemerged queens [8][9][10][11]. The queen which first emerged often is not able to destroy all queen cells before other queens emerge from them [12] and queen fighting occurs. Workers can prevent queens from destroying queen cells by aggressive behaviour [13][14].

Queens cells can be also destroyed by workers. During emergency queen rearing significant proportion of uncapped queen cells is destroyed by workers about five days after dequeening [12]. Also during swarming many of the initiated queen cells are destroyed by workers before or after capping [13][15]. It is possible that workers remove this way unhealthy and improperly developing brood. Workers often destroy queen cells during unfavourable weather [5][16]. Unlike in queenright colonies, where queen cells with holes are destroyed, in queenless colonies they are repaired by workers [2].

Other references: [17][18]


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  2. Caron D.M., and Greve C.W. (1979) Destruction of queen cells placed in queenright Apis mellifera colonies. Ann. Ent. Soc. Amer. 72:405-407.
  3. Sonezaki T. (1988) Maintaining mechanisms of single queen system in the honeybee colony. MSc thesis, Tamagawa University.
  4. Harano K., Obara Y. (2004) Virgin queens selectively destroy fully matured queen cells in the honeybee Apis mellifera L. Insectes Sociaux 51:253–258.
  5. Huber F. (1792) Nouvelles observations sur les abeilles. Barde, Manget et Compagnie, Genève, pp. 368.
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  7. Harano K., Shibai Y., Sonezaki T., Sasaki M. (2008) Behavioral Strategies of Virgin Honeybee (Apis mellifera) Queens in Sister Elimination: Different Responses to Unemerged Sisters Depending on Maturity. Sociobiology 52:31–46.
  8. Boch R. (1979) Queen substance pheromone produced by immature queen honeybees. J. Apic. Res. 18:12-15.
  9. Free J.B., Ferguson A.W. (1982) Transfer of pheromone from immature queen honeybees, Apis mellifera. Physiol. Entomol. 7:401-406.
  10. Conte Y.L., Sreng L., Sacher N., Trouiller J., Dusticier G., Poitout S.H. (1994) Chemical recognition of queen cells by honey bee workers Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Chemoecology 5:6–12.
  11. Conte Y.L., Sreng L., Poitout S.H. (1995) Brood Pheromone Can Modulate the Feeding Behavior of Apis mellifera Workers (Hytnenoptera: Apidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 88:798–804.
  12. Tofilski A., Czekońska K. (2004) Emergency queen rearing in honeybee colonies with brood of known age. Apidologie 35:275–282.
  13. Allen M.D. (1956) The behaviour of honeybees preparing to swarm. Brit. J. Anim. Behav. 4:14-22.
  14. Gilley D.C. (2001) The behavior of honeybees (Apis mellifera ligustica) during queen duels. Ethology 107:1-22.
  15. Otis G.W. (1980) The swarming biology and population dynamics of the Africanized honey bee. PhD thesis, University of Kansas.
  16. Alfonsus E.C. (1932) Swarming and supersedure. Wisconsin Beekeeping 8:34-36.
  17. Allen M.D. (1965) The production of queen cups and queen cells in relation to the general development of honeybee colonies and its connection with swarming and supersedure. J. Apic. Res. 4:121-141.
  18. Gary N.E., Morse R.A. (1962) The events following queen cell construction in honeybee colonies. J. Apic. Res. 1:3-5.