The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Classroom

The Classroom October 2015

- October 1, 2015 - Jerry Hayes - (excerpt)


I wonder if you have any thoughts on the insanity of current queen prices? This morning I was pricing around and it seems we’re up to 40 – 45 dollars for a single queen. This is madness! Don’t tell me how much a good queen is worth – I’ve had bees 22 years and know all about excellent queens. But these “gold” queens come with no guarantees and carry a high probability of failure within a few months.

Here’s my message to queen breeders: I’m not paying those outrageous prices. I’ll be growing my own queens next summer.

There, I’ve said my piece and you don’t have to reply to it!

Henry Yoder
Tremonton, UT


I would like to respond if you don’t mind Henry. Some of the most lucrative business is with hobby beekeepers who pay ‘retail’ without blinking an eye. These are folks who believe the advertising and respond to key words like Italian, Carniolan, VSH, Russian, and Yellow. There are some queens that have certain traits that can be passed on to improve colony health and vigor. Most of these queens are okay, but there is no guarantee of what the buyer is really getting or a product “Warranty” as such. When a virgin queen mates with 20+ drones in an open-mating area that attracts drones from miles away, it is almost impossible to control 100% the drone population. This means that traits are diluted or disappear quickly. I think you are right. But, this is a business and in business it is supply and demand. If there is real or imagined demand and real or imagined shortages or some other feature that makes a product appear valuable, then the business will charge what the market will absorb.

No different than all the commercials we see on TV, along the roadside, the pop-up ads on the web, etc. Advertising is trying to drive sales. Queen producers are business people and it is what it is.

On the other side of the coin, don’t forget that queen producers also have seen their costs of production skyrocket in recent years with higher winter losses and coping with problems like small hive beetles in the South. Their shipping and handling costs have jumped by 200% in some cases.

There are some states that have a queen rearing project for survivor queens for that area or region. I think rearing local queens is a great idea if you can persuade all the beekeepers in a 10-mile radius to not bring in queens that look like they will be fun to have that produce drones that circumvent the goal of rearing local survivor stock.

Q How Did Eggs Get There?

I have a puzzler I’m hoping you can help me with. In 2013 one of my package queens started out well with a good laying pattern here in northern Minnesota. By the middle of June though, she had disappeared from the hive and I could find no eggs or larvae in the double deep hive bodies. Our main flow (basswood) was just a couple weeks away and I didn’t think trying to raise or purchase a new queen was going to help the hive population in time. So, I decided to let them make what honey they might. Imagine my surprise when I checked that hive in the middle of August to find frame after frame of brood. WOW. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a queen with that good of a laying pattern. I concluded I must have missed seeing an egg somewhere in spite of searching carefully.

The hive was strong going into the winter and survived. Last year (2014) I decided to try my hand at grafting some queens from her. I had some success and this year have three of her daughters doing well in population and honey production. This summer (2015) my mystery queen from 2013 started out laying fairly well and then, while I was abroad for a speaking engagement, the hive swarmed. When I returned the landowner reported seeing a swarm and I discovered two frames, each having several capped swarm cells. I was disappointed when I inspected the hive a week and a half later and could find no queen, no eggs, no larvae. The hive was single story and about 5/8 full of bees. I wasn’t sure what to do with them as all my other hives were doing quite well. In my indecision I just left it alone. Then, July 15, I checked that hive again and was astonished to find a lot of eggs and capped brood.

I am certainly not an expert, but have had quite a bit of experience with 15-20 hives. I ponder the question—is it possible for bees to rob an egg from an adjacent hive, bring it home and make a queen out of it? Or, are there other possibilities besides me simply missing seeing eggs?

I enjoy reading “The Classroom” month after month with your insights and answers. I would appreciate any light you might shed on my situation. Thank you.



It only takes one larva in one remote place or in an obscure awkward position to be found and selected as a potential queen. And there are lots of places like this in a bee hive. Then, if the beekeeper is not looking regularly, they can develop into full cells and a virgin is produced in 15-17 days. Pretty quick. For a beekeeper, experienced or not, seeing a virgin or a virgin that has only partially completed the mating process is tough. They are small and indistinct and if there is a decent colony population or she is under, around or in back of what you are looking at, you will miss her on the first try. I have for sure….

Honey bees do not have fine motor control over mouth parts. Their mouth parts are designed for molding, smoothing, manipulating beeswax into comb–not so good at fine grasping and positioning with sensitivity. A honey bee egg is shaped like a tiny grain of rice with one end that is sticky (glue). The honey bee egg, when laid, is placed with the sticky end down in a vertical position. The egg is not designed to be plucked and pulled up to detach the sticky end and be moved by clumsy worker bees. This would be assuming the workers actually know that this is a survival mechanism and they need to get an egg from someplace else and safely carry, transport and re-position it sticky end down, in the bottom of an empty cell. Then, other workers would have to select it as a potential queen that deserves to be fed royal jelly. Sounds cool but doesn’t happen. If this were the case, then queen excluders would not work. Honey bee workers do eat eggs and larvae, but don’t move them.

Q Wax Moths

A few days ago, I went to the area in which I store my extra equipment. When I uncovered my stack of honey supers and brood chambers full of drawn comb frames, I discovered they were infested by wax moths. I use the plastic Pierco frames, so they were not really damaged beyond repair.

I must have found them just in time, because the wooden boxes seemed to be in pretty good shape too, at least I couldn’t detect any damage.

A couple of questions: What is the black coffee ground looking substance on top of the frames? I’ve read that the frames should be frozen to kill any remaining eggs or larvae. I’m thinking about power washing and maybe a bleach solution for the woodenware.

My problem is, it’s the middle of July and this is apparently when they are most active. So, after I’ve done extensive cleaning and frozen the frames etc., what is to keep the moths from attacking this equipment again? Any other suggestions for cleaning the equipment?

Thank you,
Randy E Ruark


Wax moths are looking for brood combs because there is ‘nutrition’ in the form of larval skins left behind from developing brood. There is little or no ‘nutrition’ in pure beeswax. That is why wax moths don’t do much damage to comb used exclusively for honey storage in supers, etc.
Answers to questions:

  1. Black stuff you asked about is wax moth larvae feces (poop).
  2. The flaw in your plan was you provided them, the wax moth, food, location and the comfy dark conditions to start a wax moth nursery. Wax moth adults and larvae do not like bright light. I would simply take the boxes and frames outside and expose them to natural sunlight that can penetrate into the boxes. You may want to take out the frames/foundation temporarily and expose them to sunlight to discourage the adults from selecting them as home. Natural UV from the sun helps eliminate fungal and bacterial residue. No need to use chemicals, freezers, bleach or power washers, even though they do work if it just makes you feel better. Or, you can put the boxes and frames/foundation in a stack with boxes stacked at 90 degree angles and place a shop light on top and bottom to illuminate the interior. You miss the disinfecting quality of UV from the sun though. Sunshine is intense and a great tool.
  3. You can protect them like this for as long as you want or until temps drop outside. If you want to reuse the equipment, then brush off the easier wax moth webbing and loose feces and let the bees do the final cleaning in the hive. Badly damaged combs should be replaced with new foundation.

Great lesson though. Hang in there!

I am Tommy Patrick, member of the North Carolina Beekeepers Association and Harnett County Beekeepers Association. I enjoy your Classroom very much. I found this assassin bug attacking a hive beetle. What do you think? ……