17 min read

Bigger queens, better queens - part 3

The size of the artificial queen cell used when queen rearing influences the size, weight and ovariole number of the resulting queen. Another way of getting bigger, better queens.
Male bee hummingbird
Bee hummingbird (male) by Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The qualities of the queen - her fecundity, longevity, genetics etc. - are the most important influence on colony 'success'.

You could measure that success in terms of reproduction (if free-living, does the colony swarm successfully?) or - of more relevance to a beekeeper - by the weight of the honey supers. But bees do other things as well, so success could be quantified by spring expansion (for financially-rewarding almond pollination contracts at ~$200/hive), Royal jelly or propolis production, or preferential pollination of specific crops.

Beekeeping ... so much more than honey!

But, whatever the criteria, the queen that heads the colony is critical to the success of the colony. Furthermore, whatever the desirable qualities of the colony are, there is compelling evidence that bigger queens are better queens; they lay more eggs, they lay for longer, they produce bigger workers, who collect more pollen etc.

Background reading

I've discussed bigger queens making better queens in three earlier posts. These cover:

  • some of the background evidencing why bigger queens really are better queens
  • the demonstration of a maternal effect in honey bees, where the queen invests more resources (e.g. bigger eggs that, in turn, produce bigger queens) when laying in queen cups rather than in worker comb ... this implies that grafted queens may not be the best achievable quality
  • some practical approaches to exploit the maternal effect when queen rearing. These are very much in progress studies, but I think that the early results show promise, particularly for those new to queen rearing and/or averse to grafting day-old larvae

I'll try and avoid re-hashing those posts, but - in places - they should be considered required background reading for the things I want to cover here.

Today, I'm going to discuss the influence of the size of the queen cell cup on the size of the resulting queen.

I've not seen a discussion of this in the beekeeping literature, despite it being based upon science going back well-over a decade.

It is directly relevant to those who rear queens by grafting and those hoping to exploit the maternal effect for their queen rearing.

It's an interesting story and one that has the potential to deliver an 'easy win' when you are queen rearing using artificial (usually plastic) queen cell cups, irrespective of the method you use.

This post is for paying subscribers only