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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Queen rearing theory

In general people have two objectives when rearing queens. The first is to increase the number of colonies they own, or to head colonies with a young queen that may be more vigorous than an existing queen. The second is as the female part of a bee breeding programme that is designed to change the genetic characteristics of the colony. This is more complex and moves away from the simple idea of queen rearing for colony division. The principles of queen rearing are the same regardless of the methods used. To force bees to rear queens at the time the beekeeper demands, bees must be queenless - or they must think they are. If a queen is present in colony she gives off pheromones that suppress the impulse of the workers to produce new queens. If the queen is getting old or if she has been lost the pheromones that prevent the worker bee form raising new queen cells, then the bees will start to produce a new queen to head the colony.  This is a natural process that happens frequently - old queens are replaced with new ones as colonies supersede or swarm.

Consequently, if the queen is removed from the colony the bees will believe they are queenless and start to make new queens. For a colony to rear satisfactory queens, either naturally or as part of a queen rearing programme, there must be fertile eggs and plenty of nurse bees present in a very strong colony that can provide the right conditions for this process.  The beekeeper takes advantage of this knowledge to provide conditions that are as near as possible to that required by the bees produce new queen cells.

The queen is female and comes from a fertilised egg. Queens are reared in easily recognisable queen cells that hang downwards from the face of the comb. The food the larvae receive is what determines its development into a queen. A queen larva is fed on a special food called royal jelly which contains a higher proportion of mandibular gland secretion than food fed to worker larvae.

There are many methods of queen rearing. Queen rearing can be as simple as utilising the queen cells developed as part of the swarming impulse to create new colonies to the complexity of grafting larvae and using specially designated colonies as breeding colonies, cell raising colonies and cell finishing colonies.

It is quite possible to rear queens in any type of moveable comb colony and queen rearing can be done just as well in a top bar hive as in Langstroth hives. Whether queen rearing is a suitable or useful procedure for beekeeping in the context of poverty alleviation will be discussed under issues arising.

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