How many queens can co-exist in one hive?

My, my, my…gotta love scrambling for equipment when it’s 95 degrees outside, you’re alone and can’t figure out where you’re going to put another queen! Yes, another queen. Not a queen cell mind you but another full-blown laying queen.

I wanted to do an overall check of Melissa (the big orange hive) and as I went through the mediums and got to the bottom one which sat above a queen excluder, I did a double take…eggs?? Am I seeing right? Eggs ABOVE the queen excluder? I checked the next frame thinking I was seeing things, but no, the next frame had c-shaped larvae and very obviously newly hatched eggs. So 3 frames of open brood above a queen excluder. Can you understand how bizarre this is? My first thought was that the yellow-marked queen had squeezed through the excluder somehow. I mean, I use small cell foundation so maybe she could fit through. But the queen was kept locked under the excluder on prior occasions…why would she suddenly fit through the excluder now? So I checked the frames again and lo-and-behold, there she was, a brand new unmarked queen above the excluder. What the HELL!?! I got my queen catcher and decided to hold her until I knew the status of the old queen. I set about going through the deeps to see if I could find her old majesty. There was open and capped brood in both deeps and I found the old queen in the top deep, right under the new queen in medium. So Melissa has two queens, one on either side of the excluder and both laying. Honestly, the hurdles the bees make me jump over…

I needed to put this new queen into another hive but my next problem was that the teal colored hive body was in use. On July 4th I made a nuc with the blue/white queen from Demeter. To help you keep this straight: the queen cell I found in Demeter was capped by Thursday and I left it in the main hive, the blue/white queen was moved above the old hive and was now living in her new nuc. Now Melissa needed a queen to be housed somewhere and I had no more deeps, no more double screened bottom boards, no more deep frames.

The blue/white queen is in the teal hive body, there is a double screened bottom board below and then a solid inner cover with an exit notch for the bees in the lower hive.
The blue/white queen is in the teal hive body, there is a double screened bottom board below and then a solid inner cover with an exit notch in the front for the bees in the lower hive, a.k.a Demeter.

Then I had a brainstorm, the new queen was laying in mediums, I’ll keep her in there. So I cobbled together a new set up which would allow me to just take off the entire thing and move them into a new space with no opening of the hives:

Here is the surprise queen (who I marked with pink paint). Three mediums, then a queen excluder (the sliver of grey) and the queen below. The blue is the screened bottom board, they are further separated from the lower hive by a solid inner cover and ventilated cover.
Here is the surprise queen (who I marked with pink paint). Three mediums, then a queen excluder (the sliver of grey) and the the medium housing the queen. The blue is the screened bottom board, they are further separated from the lower hive by a solid inner cover and ventilated cover.

Trying to figure out what may have occurred, I’ve come up with a few ideas:
1. A newly emerged virgin queen moved up through the excluder and mated by leaving via the top entrance. Once mated she was unable to go downward through the excluder due to the size of her abdomen, in effect getting stuck in the mediums.
2. A newly emerged virgin queen was above the excluder due to my repeated attempts to shift the laying queen. The virgin mated by leaving and returning through the top entrance.
3. The virgin may have been raised by the bees when the laying queen was stuck above the excluder, leaving eggs below.

I don’t know what went on, but what’s interesting is that there were two laying queens on either side of a queen excluder and the workers didn’t off either one, clearly daughter and mother were co-existing. I wonder for how long that would have lasted? I think in the end I will end up with three hives even though there are technically 4 right now. I wonder which will make it?

This all happened on Saturday and then today we moved the newest hive into its semi-final location. Let me tell you those bees were RARING to fly. My husband tried to separate the hive bodies to make it easier to move and a ridiculous number of bees tried to get out, he lowered the hive body realizing that plan wouldn’t work and crushed quite a few bees. So plan B was put into place (which was my Plan A but never mind that), we carried the entire thing over together and that worked like a charm and I opened the entrance. To describe it as a river of bees flowing out of the hive is not an exaggeration, I was very grateful to be wearing my bee jacket. Here is the final set-up:

The new hive is 4 mediums (the top medium is essentially empty).
The new hive is 4 mediums (the top medium is essentially empty).

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7 comments

  1. That rule of one queen per colony is more of a guideline. There have been reports of a daughter queen laying right alongside mum without any fuss. Sister queens seem more inclined to fighting.

    • I wouldn’t say it’s a guideline. Yes, it’s always interesting to see 2 queens laying at the same time, I consider it to be bonus brood. But eventually there will be just one queen. Thanks for commenting.

      • Commercial beekeepers apparently see two queens laying side by side fairly often, according to some of the books I’ve read. They’re usually thought to be mother and daughter like theprospectofbees says.

        Emma and I have been having the running out of equipment problem too. These bees really like to keep us on our toes!

      • I’m getting more equipment today! Even if I end up not needing it right now, I’ll have it for the next time. And I’m painting it pink! A color I picked last year but didn’t get to use.

        I’m debating opening the new hive today and adding another medium for the queen to lay in since she’s confined to just one medium right now by a queen excluder. If I do open them up, I would lock them back down tonight until Tuesday AM and then open the “hidden” entrance on the robber screen. But apparently it’s 99% humidity right now and it’s not raining, so I may wait.

        Sent from my iPhone

    • As we are not in the hives everyday there are many things going on that we do not see. When doing an inspection, it is certainly unusual to stumble upon two queens laying. And in my case, it was a bonus since I found her before the old queen was “removed.” It’s nice to know these things occur before it happens to you, to avoid panicking during an inspection. We found two laying queens in Connie’s hive last year and made a split that failed. I feel fortunate that I’ve personally seen this two times already in three years.

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