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Two Queen Cells?

This text was originally posted on Bee-L on Jan/29/2000... But there were no comments apart from Graham Law who was concerned about possible 'Darwinism' producing poor temper.

When queen cells are raised under the supersedure impulse, they vary in number between 2 and 6. (I have never seen less than 2 or more than 6 in over 20 years and about 300 cases).

Two is the most common... I guess about 60% of cases.
The average is somewhere between 2 and 3.
Two would seem to be significant to the bees for this purpose.

Possible Benefits:-

  1. 2 could be a hedge against faulty development in either queen cell.

  2. 2 Virgins could have the same or different fathers.

  3. 2 gives the opportunity to choose one or the other by some criteria that may be important to the bees.

  4. It is possible that the option to swarm with one of the emerging virgins is kept 'in the back of the mind' by the bees. I do not think this is the intention of the bees as swarming only happens in less than 5% of cases and it is more probable that the case was not supersedure, but was in fact swarming impulse. The error being that of recognition by the beekeeper.

  5. Other reasons as yet unthought of.


If C, is valid then what characteristics do the bees favour?
Do the bees value the same qualities as the beekeeper?
Are the bees consciously maintaining or bettering their own breeding or adaption to local circumstances?


If a mating nuc is given one Q cell then it will accept it as the only available option. If it turns out to be substandard or deficient in some way the bees will supersede the resulting queen in an attempt to correct the deficiency.
If we give 2 Queen cells to every mating nuc then the bees would have the same choice that they usually have in nature.

Choosing between Queens:-

Possible Mechanisms:-

Assuming that both cells and occupants are close in age and development.

  1. The first queen to emerge damages the other cell purely on a chance basis.

  2. One Virgin is retained in it's cell by the bees whilst the other one emerges and then damages the entrapped one.

  3. Both Virgins emerge, seek each other and fight with no intervention by the bees.

  4. Both Virgins emerge and are kept separate by the bees while they assess the relative 'quality' of the Virgins. The deselected Virgin is then harassed and killed by the bees.

  5. Other mechanisms.


If items 1 or 3 are correct then selection is random.
If 2 or 4 is right we can assume that the bees recognise some superiority in one of the virgins.


That all queen rearing and mating systems be changed to include 2 queen cells per mating nuc.

Positive and Negative:-


The use of two cells obviously requires twice as many queen cells to be available as was the case before.

The generation of early extra queen cells requires additional pollen and honey resources as well as adequate nursing labour at a time in the queen rearing calendar when such resources are scarce.

It is possible that some swarms would issue with a 'spare' full quality virgin. The smallness and lack of crowding in the nuc would be against this, but as mating nucs are necessarily an artificial system and under stress, the possibility cannot be ignored. I have only ever had swarming from a mating nuc when testing mated queens for brood rearing ability. These swarming nucs consisted of 10 or 11 half width, full depth frames in half width National brood boxes. I have not yet tried the two cell idea myself, but I intend to do so quite thoroughly over the next 3 years.


If bees are able to make 'quality control judgements' then the average quality of commercially/artificially reared queens would rise.

The rate of 'BEE IMPROVEMENT' would speed up as I believe that the bees would make better choices than the beekeepers.

There would be fewer 'poor quality' queens and less disturbance to developing colonies that would otherwise have been superseding such a poor quality queen.

The provision of extra queen cells would not be difficult, particularly in high summer. When I use the Jenter or Nicot cell plug cages I rarely use more than a third of the available larvae. A few extra cell starting and cell raising colonies would be a small price to pay for 'better bees'.

I feel that the possible benefits outweigh any unsatisfactory features by quite a large margin.

I also intend to try raising pairs of queen cells within the mating nucs themselves using special frames with small reservoirs of pollen (freshly trapped from full size colonies) and other small reservoirs of 50/50 honey and water + 0.1% copper gluconate. I do not know if the bees prefer cells they have raised themselves, but I suspect they may.


The bees are only making choices between individuals that we would have accepted as 'good' if we had used one queen Cell.

Original text... 29 January 2000, This Web Page... April 2000, Upgraded... 30 March 2005,
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