The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom – June 2021

- June 1, 2021 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

The Classroom - ABJ - Jamie Ellis
bee mid-legQ  Mysterious Leg Spine/Spur


On the mid-legs is the spine or spur. What is the consensus on its function? I guess it is referred to as a “wax spur” by many, thinking it is used to move wax flakes. I think I saw another reference to it being used to move pollen pellets. Do we really know what that little spine is used for?


Matthew Brandes




I have never witnessed one in action, but I have often read that it is used to manipulate pollen, resin/propolis and wax. Interestingly, it may have no function at all. Here is an exact quote from H. A. Dade (1994, Anatomy and Dissection of the Honeybee, IBRA) on the use of the spine:

“A single spine on the distal end of the tibia probably has no specific function, though it has been said to be used for detaching wax from the wax mirrors, which is incorrect, and for handling propolis as it is passed to the back legs, though this, too, is denied. The existence of the spine does not necessarily imply that it has any function at all: Spines in this position, and on other segments, too, are common in insects and are an indication of non-specialization rather than the reverse.”

Thus, he states it has no purpose at all. A second anatomy book I read noted the same thing. A third said it is used to pry pollen from the pollen basket and clean wings/spiracles. Seems like the jury may still be out on this one!

What is a Baby Nuc?


Small beekeeper here. 15 hives. I have been raising my own queens and this will be my second year in this effort. Has been a successful event I might add. I have been looking for about a year for details on “baby nucs,” like the ones pictured in your article “Using Nucs in Beekeeping Operations.” I cannot seem to find anything. I do have some different kind of mating nucs and they work fine. I would like to standardize and would like to know more detail on the baby nucs you mentioned. I was wondering if you have any plans for these or could share a link to them?

Marlowe Rames
Montana, April




Thanks for the email and question. I use the terms “baby nuc” and “mating nuc” interchangeably. The little wooden ones pictured in the document you reference would be someone’s homemade version. There is not much standardization in the queen mating world for these types of nucs. I, unfortunately, do not have any plans to share. Some equipment manufacturers sell these now and this would be as close to standardized sizes as one can get. My team and I use mating nucs made of Styrofoam and they seem to work well. However, they are a little smaller in volume than I am accustomed to seeing used by queen producers in the U.S. Some queen producers use standard size 2-3-frame nucs (accommodate 2-3 deep frames). Others will split 10-frame medium supers three ways, essentially making three mating nucs out of one medium super. That said, I am afraid there is little standardization otherwise.

Drone Combs


We placed starter frames in our hives and the bees pulled drone frames and filled them with drone brood which we culled. I would like to understand this phenomenon better. Why did they only build drone sized frames? Why do we cull it? It seems like a waste of precious resources. At this time of the season, how often do you go into the hives to manage swarm prevention?

Aris Roberts




By “starter frames,” do you mean frames with foundation or frames that have only a small strip of foundation at the top? If you mean the former (you gave them frames that had whole sheets of foundation), it would be very odd for them to build exclusively drone combs on these. I would recommend ensuring that the foundation is standard worker foundation rather the drone foundation. If the latter (you gave them a small strip of foundation at the top of the frame, expecting them to pull the rest of the comb on their own), then it is natural for the bees to make about 20% of their comb into drone comb. It is not really natural for them to make exclusively drone comb. In the wild, bees make proportionately more of their comb into drone comb than we allow them to do by giving them exclusively frames of worker foundation. If this continues to be a problem, I recommend giving them whole sheets of foundation rather than the starter strips. That way, they build what you want, where you want it.

The reason folks cull drone comb is that drones do not contribute to the work force in a managed colony and Varroa reproduce better on drones. Beekeepers minimize the amount of drone comb in a hive if it gets unbalanced (i.e., proportionately too much drone comb). Providing them exclusively worker foundation (standard foundation) helps address this.

For swarm control, I go into the hives once per week to cut queen cells during production season (2-3 weeks before the major nectar flow, and then throughout the remainder of the nectar flow). Have a look at this link for more information on swarm control: (or Google
“EDIS swarm control” to find it).

Swarming with Virgin Queens


Every spring, I create and sell nucs from every one of my colonies. After removing the queen and two frames of bees and brood, I go back into the parent colony on days 9-10 and tear down all queen cells but two. I also make sure not to leave cells in close proximity to one another so that the virgins emerge at the same time. In doing so, I am under the belief that a cell on a separate frame was laid later or earlier which will provide the first virgin the opportunity to destroy the other cell. In most cases, there are no issues but, in some instances, I will get a virgin swarm which usually takes place on days 18-20 from when I made the nuc.

Considering that this does not happen regularly, it leads me to think there is another factor at play that I am missing. Is it possible that the propensity to swarm already existed in the colony and I missed the cues? In other words, leaving a colony with that propensity and two cells gave them the resource to continue what was already in motion? I know that I can also only leave one cell but that, too, is a gamble if one is not good. I have done this in the past as well and it works most times. Unfortunately, when it does not work and the cell is no good, I have laying workers established by day 28 when I look for the new queen.

Now, I return to the parent colony on days 9-10 and remove all cells but two. The cells must be on … .