Supersedure in Swarm Season.

Supersedure cells. Photo by Jane Geddes.

So far, the first week of July is unsettled with wind, rain showers, sunny spells, and chilly nights. Supersedure crops up again. I wrote about it in relation to varroa infestations last year,, but now three colonies, out of eleven, are superseding. Two of them were treated at the same time with Formic Pro because the alcohol wash test results were too high. One was 6% and the other 3% infestation (19 mites on 300 bees, & 9 mites on 300 respectively). Both colonies are in Swienty poly hives with fully open entrances, albeit narrower than the entrances of my wooden national hives. Next time I will fully prop the entrances open with wedges under the bottom brood box, and I will give them an empty super at the top for more space.

The queen is still in residence and attended by her retinue. Photo by Jane Geddes.

I’m not too worried about the goings on as one queen is a year old, and the other’s age is unknown. One scenario is very interesting, and maybe a perfect supersedure with two queens laying together for a while with no gaps in brood rearing, but that remains to be seen. There were only a few queen cells, 5-6, in the top brood box and two were capped. The queen was there and getting plenty of attention and you can see her retinue antennating her above. Note the lovely green meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, pollen at the top of the frame.

Poorly Colony.

The other colony, (with queen of unknown age) built up from a swarm from a free-living colony last year, was in another apiary being observed for hygienic behaviour. I did notice chewed out pupae, and an alcohol wash test showed a less than 2% infestation in May and I thought hopefully that this colony might just be good at managing varroa. However, a month later the scene was different. I saw bees with deformed wing virus, and a few crawling bees that might just have CBPV syndrome 1, but who knows as we have no virus testing facilities available.
When the alcohol wash test revealed 19 mites, I removed the supers and used Formic Pro and the queen is not there at the end of treatment. I have requeened with a good queen from favoured stock and we shall see what happens next.

Confusing Queen Cells.

Supersedure cells in a familiar position top and mid-frame. Photo by Jane Geddes.

Supersedure can be confusing and cells may easily be missed during swarm season and mistaken for swarm cells. You might think that supersedure usually occurs at the end of summer after poor matings, but my research tells me that it can also occur during swarm season and sometimes it is very hard to tell the difference between the two, so, it is only after the event that you can know for sure what happened. Delia Allen1 made interesting observations during her study of queen cell production in 81 colonies between 1961-64 in Aberdeenshire. Interestingly, the weather over those four summers was a bit like what we are experiencing this year, terrible.

Allen decided that the presence of unsealed queen cells didn’t always mean that a colony was going to swarm or supersede. Poor weather was a factor that made the colonies change plans and tear down swarm cells. As it happened, the weather was poor throughout her study with a mean summer temperature of 10- 14 degrees C.

28 Supersedure Cells.

Although generally one can say that the production of less than 4-5 queen cells usually indicates supersedure, it is not always true. Allen found that some superseding colonies had up to 28 queen cells, and that colonies often superseded during swarm season. However, many of the colonies superseded in July and August which ties in with poor weather at mating times which will resonate with lots of people.

I wonder how many of your colonies will supersede in this cold unsettled summer? Andrew Card of The Lochness Honey Company tells me that he’s come across supersedure cells this year during swarm season. He has had disappointing results for his queen rearing operation with the loss of 25 virgin queens that remained unmated due to the really awful weather in June. The summer Solstice is his cut-off point for queen rearing so it’s over for him now till next year.

Supersedure cells on the bottom of the shallow top brood box by Andrew Card.

Where are supersedure cells situated? Well, I’ve read that they are mostly to be found in the top to middle areas of a brood frame but they might also be on the bottom of the frames as Andrew’s photo shows. I’ve rarely noticed supersedure in my beekeeping career, and when I have noticed cells they have been as obvious as those in Jane’s photograph and usually in July or August. So, it is quite possible that I have missed many supersedure cells over the last 20 years during swarm season. I have to keep reminding myself that nothing is set in stone in beekeeping, and to keep an open mind and an observant eye.


1 Allen, M. D. (1965) ‘The Production of Queen Cups and Queen Cells in Relation to the General Development of Honeybee Colonies, and its Connection with Swarming and Supersedure’, Journal of Apicultural Research, 4(3), pp. 121–141. doi: 10.1080/00218839.1965.11100115.

1 thought on “Supersedure in Swarm Season.”

  1. Interesting article and I would agree we don’t know an awful lot about supersedure cells or queen cells in general.
    I often see supersedure happen in my area around the heather flow in late July/ August. It’s often only one single cell, so that’s very obvious then.
    More often than not I see it with colonies that couldn’t build up to full strength (often windy not very productive locations or up on the hills!)
    It seems the bees blame their queen for not building up to full strength!
    During swarming season I would say I never have seen a supersedure happening (I always mark my queen, so can be fairly sure about that) I guess you can say after a while if a colony has full strength and if they have and conditions are good, they would swarm on “supersedure cells” is it a supersedure cell then?
    The only exception I have ever seen, are queens from mini-mating nuc’s, they seem not doing great often and the bees replace them usually by supersedure even during swarming season!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.