I discussed some of the natural reproductive instincts of the honey bees and the environmental conditions that lead to natural replacement of a queen and colony expansion in part 1 of this series. In this article I will discuss the simplest method that a beekeeper can use to create a few queens or colonies. This method is called making a split.
I am not going to get into a lot of detail here but just cover the basics. If a colony becomes queenless for whatever reason, they sense the loss of her presence due to the lack of a pheromone that she produces and they will attempt to raise a replacement. They usually select several larvae that are less than 24 hours old and feed them a diet of royal jelly during their six day larval period. A worker bee is fed royal jelly, a substance secreted from the young workers, for only the first day and then pollen and honey after that.
A beekeeper can create a queenless colony by combining frames of honey, pollen, capped older brood and very young brood into a five frame nuc (nucleus colony) or standard hive body. The bees will sense their queenless condition in a matter of hours and begin their task of making a replacement queen.
Below you will see queen cells about to be capped off.
In about 16 days from the time the egg is laid the new queen will emerge from her special queen cell that looks very much like a peanut in its shell. If there are several queen cells present, the first queen to emerge will kill her rivals by stinging them before they emerge. If two queens emerge at the same time they will fight to the death until one is left to take over the colony.
The virgin queen will then have to take her mating flight where she will mate with up to 20 drones and then return to her colony. She will store the drone’s sperm for her entire life which can last for up to five years.