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Longevity and Supersedure in Honey Bees

Both useful traits

Originally Titled "Long-Lived Supersedure Strains", written in 1997 by Micheál Mac Giolla Coda.


If you have a queen of two or three or more years standing, still laying vigorously and her colony has never attempted to raise swarm cells during her long life, you may have a treasure. She is worthy of careful observation from here on in.


If in the Spring or early Summer or late Summer or Autumn you suddenly find between one and five evenly aged queen cells built on the face of the brood combs of this colony, you may very well have a very rare treasure, i.e. a supersedure strain. Should you subsequently examine your colony and find therein your old queen still laying while on an adjacent frame you find her daughter queen also laying, then you surely have a pearl of great price. For this is supersedure at its very best and this is a strain which is well worthy of future propagation. Please note, what Micheál describes is natural supersedure, NOT the supersedure of young queens that has appeared since the turn of the 21st century, that has become very common and I describe here. R.P.

Propagating the Traits

How do we propagate or multiply this new found treasure?. We can do it in the normal way by taking out the old lady and raising queens from her eggs by whatever means of queen rearing we are accustomed to use. If one is not yet familiar with modern methods of raising queens, the simplest thing to do is to divide the colony into a number of nuclei, giving one ripe queen cell to each nucleus. The nuclei can be strengthened by the addition of brood, bees or stores from other strong colonies in the apiary. The old queen can be left on the parent stand making sure that it is well provisioned and strengthen it further if necessary. I strongly advise raising as many queens as reasonably possible from a good queen that is being superseded, even if you can give larvae or queen cells to other beekeepers. You never know when the queen will die. R.P.

How I Found Out

This was my experience in late July 1989 when having returned from Gormanston it was my pleasure to have a visit from Adrian and Claire Waring. I took them to see my apiary at Garryroan. During the previous week Adrian Waring had been our senior guest lecturer at Gormanston Summer Course. A noted protagonist of the Dark Bee and Chairman of BIBBA at that time, he spoke a bee language that I was beginning to understand and he opened my eyes to a few features about my own bees, the relevance of which I had not yet come to appreciate. While listening to one of his lectures on longevity and supersedure I could not help thinking about two hives in particular: GR1 and GR2. I knew that both had queens which were now three years old. Before I had left for Gormanston I had found supersedure cells in GR1 which I had taken out in a nucleus. I wondered what I might find when I got home.

Lucky Break

As luck would have it Adrian and Claire decided to take an extended holiday in the Glen of Aherlow. I took them to see GR1 and GR2. I showed them the hive records. There had been no previous attempt to raise queen cells, the honey production for the two hives was above the apiary average for the previous two years, they liked the bees behaviour, and I got first class advice. We found supersedure cells again in GR1 while the queen in GR2 was laying away with ten perfectly capped B.S. Commercial sized frames of brood and no sign of a queen cell. I was told that all the daughter queens would not be the same, but there was every chance that some of them would inherit the longevity and possible supersedure characteristics of their parent queens. Subsequent observation has proved this to be correct. Some of the progeny did raise swarm cells in 1991 but a few did not -a good sign in a swarming year.

Further Work

Following the procedure suggested by the Warings, on the 26.7.89 I divided GR1 into five units each with a ripe queen cell. I left the old queen behind on the parent stand without any queen cell. Bees, brood and stores from other strong hives were added to the nuclei and they were taken to an apiary on the edge of the heather for mating.

But GR2 Had no Queen Cells

The procedure was somewhat different for GR2 which had no queen cells. First of all I took the queen in a small nucleus to the home apiary on the 26.7.89. On my return on 3.8.89 I found six capped cells. The colony was divided in three, I left one behind and took the other two to the home apiary. All young queens were duly mated. They were strengthened with brood and stores, expanded to full brood chambers and fed for winter. All stocks wintered well except that which was left on the parent stand at GR2. This stock died during the winter. However the exercise had proved well worth while as I ended up in the following Spring with six units from GR1 and three units from GR2. Of course without the other strong stocks to provide additional strengthening material this number of divides would not have been possible.

Queenright Supersedure

The first inspection of the mother colony at GR1 was carried out on 2.5.90. Quite happy on finding eggs and seeing a fine young queen in full lay on a frame of brood, I was about to return this frame to the brood chamber and close up the hive when my eye caught a glimpse of a yellow spot on the face of the adjoining frame. Could it be possible, or was it just a load of pollen on a returning worker's hind leg. A closer look revealed the old 1986 queen laying away diligently. Was the young queen raised and mated during April or did this occur in the previous Autumn and both queens survive in the hive over Winter - it can happen!. In any event it was a prime example of perfect supersedure as both mother and daughter were laying nicely and quite amicably almost side by side. Harking back to Adrian's quote of Charles Mraz (a well known American beekeeper. R.P.) who said "never kill a good queen", I naturally took the old queen in a nucleus to the home apiary where I managed to raise some more queens from her before she was eventually superseded during the Summer.

Further Work

This year of course I will be looking out for further evidence of supersedure among the progeny of those two 1986 queens which have already gone through two full seasons. The saga of GR1 and GR2 has only just began!.

Micheál Mac Giolla Coda

I am unaware of the original source of this article. I do not know if has been altered from the original. R.P.