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The Classroom

The Classroom – August 2023

- August 1, 2023 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
Queen footprint pheromone

I recently read in an American Bee Journal article by Jake Barker that queens’ foot pheromones limit bees from creating queen cups. It stated that was why you see queen swarm cups along the bottom bar since queens spend less time in that area of a comb. That is the first time I have heard that. I know during swarming, the bees put the queen on a “diet” by running her around and agitate her to prevent her from laying. They also backfill the brood chamber with nectar, thus creating less space for the queen to lay. Can you explain what prompts a queen to lay in the cups? Is that her choice due to lack of open cells or do the bees corral her to lay in them?

Regina Rhoa
Pennsylvania, April


After receiving this question, I knew exactly who I should contact for the most complete answer. I forwarded your questions to Dr. Wyatt Mangum, as I know he is an expert on all things queens. You might recognize his name given he authors the column “Bees and Beekeeping, Past and Present” in the American Bee Journal. Here is his answer:

The assertion about the queen cups for swarming being built at the lower edge of the comb originates from a scientific research paper titled “The Inhibiting Effect of the Queen Bee (Apis mellifera L.) Foot-Print Pheromone on the Construction of Swarming Queen Cups” (Lensky and Slabezki, 1981). The paper describes several experiments along with their technical methods. Here are some highlights concerning queen cups built for swarming, also called swarming queen cups.

The authors reported that bees produced swarming queen cups when colonies were crowded during non-swarming conditions and during swarming conditions. With two (single frame) observation hives, one crowded and the other not crowded, they made continuous observations of the two queens. The movements of the queen in the crowded observation hive were restricted mostly to the central region of the comb, in particular, away from the lower edge of the comb. The queen in the uncrowded hive did walk the lower comb edge. Using larger colonies, each with brood chambers and a variable number of supers to impose different amounts of crowding, the authors tested different queen pheromones that might inhibit swarming queen cup construction. They found that a mixture of tarsal and mandibular gland secretions inhibited swarming queen cups from being built. (Tarsal glands are in the queen’s “feet” and are the origin of the so-called, though little known, foot-print pheromone.) Therefore, although their sample sizes are small, they found that crowded hive conditions tend to confine the queen from the lower edge of the comb, where she could not deposit her pheromones on the comb. Lacking this inhibition, the bees built queen cups (which could become queen cells for swarming). 

A couple of brief comments: While overcrowding is implicated as an important factor in swarming, the process is far more complicated than the queen-cup initiation described above. Other variables and conditions are involved too. For example, in a colony preparing to swarm, queen cups can be routinely found on the interior of brood combs, well away from the comb edges, where the bees can fit a mature swarm queen cell. Queen bees should have frequented those interior comb locations, but apparently the queen cups were not inhibited by their “foot-print pheromones.”

When bees build comb naturally to the floor of the hive, they only leave a minimal bee space between the lower comb edge and the floor. Consequently, there is no space for queen cells for swarming –– that is, no swarm cells hang from the lower edge of the comb. The swarm cells are mostly along the side edges of the combs and scattered across them, which I see routinely in my top-bar hives. The bottom bar of the frame introduces an artifact, by creating space for swarm cells from the lower edge of the comb.

The spatial queen-movement data from Lensky and Slabezki shows the queen in the crowded observation hive was confined away from the side edges of the comb, not just the lower edge of the comb, which is why I used the words “central area.”

If the combs were free hanging (not meeting a side wall or floor), I suspect the swarm queen cup placement would be distributed all around the comb edges (all under the honey bands). This would be the queen cup placement without any “hive” influence (artifact). For one colony, Fell and Morse (1984) did this free-hanging comb investigation for the placement of emergency queen cells (begun from worker cells), and they were distributed around the comb near to the edges. 

I have photographed laying workers ovipositing (laying eggs) in queen cell cups. However, little is known about queen bees ovipositing in queen cups to initiate swarming, or possibly worker bees moving eggs or young larvae into the cups (Winston, 1987, pg. 182). 


Fell, R. D., & Morse, R. A. (1984). Emergency queen cell production in the honey bee colony. Insectes sociaux, 31(3), 221-237.

Lensky, Y., & Slabezki, Y. (1981). The inhibiting effect of the queen bee (Apis mellifera L.) foot-print pheromone on the construction of swarming queen cups. Journal of insect physiology, 27(5), 313-323.

Winston, M. L. (1987). The biology of the honey bee. Harvard university press.


Fumidil-B in sugar syrup

 Fumidil-B is fed in a sugar syrup. In my sugar syrup, I have always added a little Pro Health sold by Mann Lake to slow down the syrup from fermenting and molding as fast. My question is, does Pro Health affect the Fumidil-B?

Steve Haynes
Indiana, May


Unfortunately, the answer to this question is unknown. I am not aware of anyone studying this. Beyond that, many of the feed additives available for use in honey bee colonies have not been tested in academic or other independent research laboratories. We are not sure what they do on their own. Layer that on top of how they might interact with existing honey bee treatments, such as Fumidil-B, and we get a great big pile of mystery.


Treating with Apivar

 In the June 2023 issue of American Bee Journal, you stated: “My policy: I leave the medium super of honey on the hive for the bees and never touch the honey myself. I always leave that super immediately above the excluder.” My question is: Would this not be a risk to contaminating other honey supers in the hive? Bees are known to move honey around the hive (and possibly into honey supers meant for harvest) and is it not possible that they may also use some of this honey to create new comb which would also be contaminated with amitraz (Apivar)?

Jerry Repasky
Pennsylvania, May


Thanks for the question. As you state, I do leave a medium super on hives throughout the year. My standard hive configuration is a deep brood box, metal queen excluder, and a medium super. The medium super provides the space the bees need to store the honey they will use through winter. (The excluder is removed before winter to prevent the queen from being stranded below as the colony moves up.) As I have stated in this column in the past, I do not move frames out of this super and I do not extract the honey the bees put into this super, regardless of how good the honey looks. The bees are the exclusive users of this honey.

I had a look at the Apivar label and it currently states: DO NOT USE APIVAR® STRIPS WHEN HONEY SUPERS ARE PRESENT. In fact, it says this in multiple places, and in the ALL CAPS font I included here. My strict interpretation of this would be to remove the medium honey super from the hive if/when one wants to treat with Apivar. If you do that, it will help minimize the likelihood of Apivar contamination in supers you use for honey production after you remove the treatment.

Your questions are relevant and valid. Bees can move honey from one section of comb into supers placed on the hives for honey extraction purposes. The same risk exists with every hive configuration, not just when leaving a medium food super on hives. For example, bees store honey in their brood combs. This honey could also be moved to supers placed on hives for honey production purposes. Ultimately, the label has been developed in a way to maximize the efficacy of the active ingredient (amitraz) on the target organism (Varroa) with minimal impact to the host (the bee) or the marketable product it produces (the honey). As the label is currently written, I would remove this super from the hive while treating them with this product.


Hives swarming after splitting

 I live in northwest Georgia. I had three hives in February and my plan this year was to split early and try to have six hives ready for the late-April nectar flow. In mid-February, I made a strong nuc with each original queen and left all the foragers with the parent hive to raise a new queen. The nucs built up as planned. The parent hives did something unexpected. As soon as the queens started emerging, all three of the hives started