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Supersedure Cells vs Swarm Cells - Unraveling the Beehive Cell Mystery

Supersedure Cells vs Swarm Cells - Unraveling the Beehive Cell Mystery

In this blog post, we’ll begin to look at queen cells – special cells the worker bees create to produce a new queen. You heard that right! It’s the workers, not the queen, who decides when it’s time for a new ruler.

There are usually two distinct reasons bees build cells with the intent to produce a new queen. We’ll discuss both scenarios and what you should do when you find a queen cell in your hive.

What Does a Queen Cell Look Like?

A queen cell is much larger and quite different from the typical cells used to raise brood and store honey. A queen cell is/has:

  • A rough surface texture
  • Approximately 1” in length
  • Elongated
  • Hangs vertically from the comb or frame where it is attached

queen cell’s rough texture and elongated shape is often described as looking like a peanut shell. It protrudes significantly above the surface of the comb, often entirely above it, and sometimes hangs from the edge of the frame.

Why Do Bees Make Queen Cells?

There are usually two distinct reasons bees build cells with the intent to produce a new queen – when they are preparing to swarm and when the current queen in the colony is failing or has died. Let’s look at both circumstances. We’ll discuss swarm cells today and supersedure cells next blog post.

Queen Cells and Swarming Activity

In the first scenario, the hive has conditions that cause swarming activities to take place. (See this blog post for the common reasons bees swarm.) When the conditions are right for swarming, approximately 50% of the bees will make preparations to leave the hive with the existing queen. These preparations include the creation of many queen cells, often referred to as swarm cells, ensuring that the bees remaining in the hive have a queen. If conditions are bad enough in the hive, however, all the bees may swarm. The strongest of the new queens will take over the queenly duties for the hive that remains.

In the spring, during hive inspections, beekeepers often look for swarm cells to determine if the hive is preparing to swarm. If a fully capped swarm cell is found, however, it’s generally too late to prevent a swarm. Even if you were to remove the cell, the bees are likely to swarm anyways. Therefore, you should perform timely hive inspections and learn how to identify swarm cells early by looking for queen cups.

If a fully capped swarm cell is discovered, your best bet would be to perform a hive spilt, taking the current queen to the new hive, leaving the swarm cells to hatch and rule over the older hive. A hive split is your best bet to prevent the bees from swarming.

Swarm cells can also be harvested to insert into the combs of hives that are queenless or to replace queens that are faltering.

An uncapped queen cell is called a queen cup and the existing queen will lay an egg in it. A queen cup is often described as being bowl- or teacup-shaped. Once an egg has been deposited in the cup, the cell is enlarged by the workers and becomes much larger and peanut-shaped.

Swarming Season is Soon Upon Us

It may not feel like it with the cold weather we’ve been having, but swarming season is just around the corner. As soon as warm weather moves in, the bees will swarm if conditions are right. Are you ready? If you want to be ready to capture your bees should they swarm, or catch someone else’s that have escaped, you need to provide the bees with a comfortable and inviting new home. That’s where swarm traps come in. Time to get yours put together and ready for use when warm weather sets in. You’ll want to add some attractant to advertise your trap’s location, and then you’re ready to catch any swarms that happen to be in your vicinity.

Join us next time when we’ll finish this discussion by looking at supersedure cells – queen cells to replace the current queen, compare drone cells to queen cells, and compare supersedure cells to swarm cells.

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