I forgot to post an update about the possible Piping Queen I heard in a queenless colony a while ago. (It’s a longer-than-usual but detailed post that might be interesting for beekeepers who’ve never encountered piping or even heard of it.) The update: I pulled a frame from the hive six days after I heard the piping and found a frame full of royal jelly.
Royal jelly isn’t a guarantee that I have a well-mated queen. I could have a laying worker or a drone-laying queen. But I’m taking it as a good sign. For now on if I hear piping, I’ll assume that a good queen is present. A shot in the dark: The virgin queen mated the very day I heard the piping. (I’ll update this post if it turns out the queen is a dud.)
Supersedure Cell or Emergency Queen Cell?
I’m probably wrong to think of both as supersedure cells. In my mind, they both replace a dead or dying queen, so that’s superseding enough for me. But how the queen cells are created defines the difference. For example, the original colony’s queen that we’re talking about here was dead or dying back in June. The bees created a supersedure queen cell low on the frame like a swarm cell — which leads me to believe the queen knew she was dying and therefore made sure to lay in a queen cup at the bottom of the frame, the best possible spot for a queen cell to develop. A supersedure cell off the side of the frame is usually created when the queen is dead and the bees have no choice but to build queen cells with whatever fresh brood they can find. Those are “emergency” supersedure cells and I’ve heard many beekeepers argue that they produce inferior queens compared to swarm cells or supersedure cells that are built low on the frames. But there are so many variations to what the bees can and will do, I’m not sure how much it matters what we call the queen cells. In the end, the bees have created a replacement queen and that’s it. I could be wrong about all of this, so please feel free to say, “Hey, buddy, you got that all wrong.”
In any case, an open supersedure cell full of royal jelly was found on July 1. The new queen should have emerged by July 16. The virgin queen has 20 days to mate after that, which would have been the day after I heard the piping (but couldn’t see a queen). Six days later I found the brood frames full of royal jelly. So my guess is the queen mated just in the nick of the time and the piping indicated that she was getting ready to start laying. I’ve read nothing conclusive about piping queens, so for now, that’s my personal theory on piping.
June 2019 Postscript: Supersedure cells are usually found on the face of the frames (somewhere near the middle). Swarm cells are usually found on the bottom of the frames, often hanging past the bottom bar. But I’ve also found beautiful, long swarm cells in the middle a frame, dozens of them. And I’ve found supersedure cells at the bottom of the frames. The bees don’t always do what the textbooks say they do.