Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

The Tragedy of Queen Jasmine

Queen Jasmine died today. This is the sad story. It's accompanied by photographs that I took during the hive inspection with the intention of posting a happy story.

Since I've already told you how the story ends, let's start there. I think Queen Jasmine died as a result of a formic acid treatment that I placed on the brood box. It's a product called MAQS - Mites Away Quick Strips - for controlling varroa mites. The product label does carry a warning:

Formic acid will initially disturb colony activities and may, within one day of application, result in queen rejection or slight increase in adult bee mortality.

I've used the product before with no problems. The risk to the bees is greatest at high temperatures but today the weather was cool and a little showery.

The MAQS are a formic acid paste covered in paper wraps, and are placed on top of the brood box like this:

MAQS on Cedar Hive brood box

MAQS on Cedar Hive brood box

Acutally, looking back at the photograph, these strips are a little further apart than they should be - they are supposed to be placed more centrally. That won't have affected things though.

After I closed up the Cedar Hive, I went to write up my notes, had a cup of tea, then looked at another hive. Then it started to rain, and I went back to the Cedar Hive to bring in some equipment that I had left out on the gin terrace. When I opened the door to the terrace, I found a little pile of worker bees on the ground immediately outside, clustered around something. I went to see what they were doing. Gently moving workers aside, I found a dead bee in the centre of the pile. The bee looked squashed, and her stinger was out. Bees don't cluster around a dead bee under normal circumstances so I feared the worst and yes, when I collected the bee and brought her in under the light I could see that she was a dead queen.

Queen Jasmine. An hour and a half earlier, I had seen her walking happily around on a brood frame.

What happened? Well, as I said, I think it had to do with the MAQS. Possibly the MAQS caused the bees to reject the queen so they "balled" her, driving her from the hive and stinging her to death. I'm a bit doubtful about that as it would have been an extreme reaction. But I'm mortified by what I suspect is closer to the truth - that the queen fled the formic acid fumes or was evacuated by the workers for safety, and she took refuge on the decking in front of the door. I, with my big feet, then stepped towards the door...

Either way this is a very sad ending to a beautiful queen. It was Queen Jasmine whose ascension to the throne featured in the story The Hidden Princess. Today, I really do feel like a wicked witch.

Here, anyway, are my photographs of the Cedar Hive inspection, as a tribute to this colony:

Writings, images and sound recordings are by the beekeeper unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.

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