Requeening and annual requeening

  Many commercial and hobby beekeepers practice annual requeening, while others only requeen hives with failing queens...

The Betterbee catalog contains a description of the book "The Hive And The Honeybee" (by Joe M. Graham, Dadant & Sons): "The 25th edition of the 'bible' of practical beekeeping. This 1,324 page reference work covers every aspect of bees and beekeeping through 27 exhaustive chapters (each by a different expert). A must-have! An ideal gift for any beekeeper."

According to this "bible," "The average queen lives one to two years, but she is dependable as a vigorous egg layer for only one year. This is why requeening colonies at least once a year is very important." (p.349)

I do not agree with this recommendation and would like to provide some facts and calculations:

- The average queen mates with 15 to 20 drones within one to two days. Since she will never mate again, these sperm must suffice for the duration of the queen's reproductive life (QRL).
- In the process of natural mating, queens collect about five to six million sperm. The sperm migrate to and are stored in the queen's abdomen (called spermatheca) for years.
- Bees are unlike most animals, in which one sperm fertilizes one egg. Queens need to retain 5-6 million sperm to fertilize about two million eggs.
- A naturally-mated good queen can lay up to 3,000 eggs a day (but not every day) and totally from 150,000 - to 300,000 eggs per season!
- Usually, a naturally-mated queen lays more eggs on the daily basis and lives longer than an artificially inseminated queen.

A simple calculation shows us roughly the real potential of a good queen:
QRL (number of years) = 2,000,000 : 150,000 (300,000).

The result of this calculation is very close to Gilbert Waldbauer's statement: "...Since she will never mate again, these sperm must suffice for the duration of her reproductive life. During her tenure in the colony, usually about two years, but as long as eight years if she is coddled by the beekeeper, she lays as many as 2 million eggs..."

Therefore, I think annual requeening could be recommended for an artificially inseminated queen, but not for a good, naturally-mated queen.

My beekeeping practice is very similar to G.M. Doolittle's approach:
"After experimenting in the direction of superseding queen for years, I now decidedly prefer to leave it to the bees to decide when their queens are worn out... As a general thing, the bee will make fever mistakes in directing this delicate matter than the wisest apiarist is likely to make...I never supersede a nice queen, no matter how old, until she shows signs of failing powers."

It is easy to prevent swarming and keep queens healthy for at least 3-5 years by providing proper hive ventilation and plenty of room for egg laying in the brood nest.
Therefore, annual requeening is usually unwarranted if your queen is still a good egg-layer.

  Gilbert Waldbauer is the Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  A practical beekeeper from Onondaga County, N. Y., Gilbert M. Doolittle (1846-1918) the father of commercial queen bee rearing.

"G. M. Doolittle introduced one of the key innovations that permitted beekeeping to expand from a cottage industry to an industrial-scale operation. Recognizing that he could transfer larvae to artificial queen cups, Doolittle found that he could raise as many queens as might be needed, and by doing so, he could replace weak and sickly queens, create new hives, or divide old ones. With this discovery, the availability or inadequacy of queens no longer became a limiting factor in honey production. Doolittle's method remains a foundation of modern apiculture."

Boris Romanov, January 29, 2009
Last Modified:  July 6, 2009


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