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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Louisa, VA
    Posts
    68

    Default Queen "balling." What is the cause?

    Hello everyone,

    I would like some input from those of you with experience with queens being "balled." I believe this is the term used to describe when a queen bee is targeted and killed by the workers when she is still a successful layer/queen. Over the last year, or so, I have experienced this phenomena at least twice.

    The first time this occurred was during a spring inspection on one of my hives. This queen was a supersedure queen raised late in the fall. Up until this point she had been a successful queen. However, during my inspection of the hive I was having difficulty finding the queen. As I continued looking through the hive I found a cluster of bees on the bottom board. I hit them with a little smoke and sure enough they were attempting to sting their queen to death.

    The second time this occurred I was splitting some deep six frame nucs to get some brood frames for my queen castles. While splitting the nucs, naturally, I was locating queens to be sure I didn't transfer their queen to the mating nuc. With one of the nucs I had trouble finding the queen, and sure enough I found another cluster of bees trying to sting their queen. This time I hit them with smoke and let the queen crawl back on the frame, but sure enough, I checked them yesterday and they are queen-less and raising some queen cells. This queen also, seemed really productive-nice brood pattern and lots of eggs.

    So, what could be the cause of this? Could it be a poor gene in some of my bees that are susceptible to this behavior? Some of my queens are several years old and I have never had trouble inspecting them and inducing this type of behavior? The first time this occurred I thought maybe I had caught the bees in the act of supersedure, but having this happen twice makes me think the behavior is more likely queens being balled. Naturally I don't plan to breed from these colonies!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Concord, CA
    Posts
    4,194

    Default Re: Queen "balling." What is the cause?

    Did you happen to notice 2 balls in the hive. There where reports from you're area last year of swarms taking over established hives.
    One ball protects the invading queen, while the other ball kills the resident queen.
    Dr. Wyatt A Mangum of Fredricksburg, VA observed a few of them, & wrote articles about it in the American Bee Journal.
    Dan

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Location
    Warrior, Alabama
    Posts
    1,073

    Default Re: Queen "balling." What is the cause?

    Nobody wants to here it but swarms attacking an established hive is very much and African trate.
    Old Guy in Alabama

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Elkton, Giles, Tennessee, USA
    Posts
    1,357

    Default Re: Queen "balling." What is the cause?

    Don't understand your distinction between balling and supersedure. Balling is very much a part of the SS process. The old queen is expendable once the colony commits to SS. If she objects to the threat of replacement, she is terminated. They are not going to let her interfere in the process. If she behaves herself, they may let her lay all the way through her daughters maturity, but the hard-headed pay the price. Merciless little creatures.

    Nobody knows the criteria applied to colony judgement of queen performance. What looks good to us obviously is only part of the picture. Doing all the right things by our standards doesn't mean she won't be superseded.

    Walt

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Louisa, VA
    Posts
    68

    Default Re: Queen "balling." What is the cause?

    I found this online at: http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/queenball.html

    There seems to be several different reasons for queen balling and reading what little literature there is on the subject is of little help as the writers have seen little and made interpretations of what they think they have seen, I have to admit that much of what I am saying is also conjecture rather than scientific knowledge gained by experiment, but it would seem that I have seen more of the activity than others describe, as some claim to have seen it only twice in a lifetime, yet I have seen it around a couple of dozen times. Most people think it abnormal, but however frequently it occurs, it must have a cause or reason.

    Wedmore, in a Manual of Beekeeping says...

    Balling of Queen

    56. In certain circumstances worker bees crowd round and enclose the queen. This is believed to be a panicky attempt to protect her. It is liable to occur if the queen is frightened. It is most likely to occur during or following manipulation in the spring in poor weather when stores are short, in small lots, and during robbing; in other words, in time of stress and at times when the queen could not be replaced by the bees. Old bees, long queenless, are liable to ball a new queen on introduction, or a virgin queen on her return to the hive.
    57. When balling, the bees form a ball with the queen at the centre. Balling is accompanied by a distinctive hissing sound in the note of the colony. The ball will become tighter if the operator endeavours to break it by hand or by the application of smoke, and the queen will probably be damaged or even suffocated. If balling is seen, close the hive at once, if practicable, and await more favourable circumstances. The ball can be broken up by dipping in water, but the queen should then be caged for a time, and the condition of the stock seen to.
    58. To avoid balling make the minimum of disturbance in the spring, making any necessary full examination when honey is coming in or after feeding, and stop if, signs of balling, occur. The more excitable dark races are the most likely to ball their queen.
    Brother Adam pointed out that balling is an 'everyday occurrence' with the Tellian bee A. m. intermissa and since many of our mongrel bees have been derived from this source or contain it's genes, it seems that the observation made by Wedmore about the dark bees could be correct. However I noticed this behaviour more in my own bees when I started my beekeeping, at which time I was in favour of Italian hybrid bees... Later as my ideas progressed and I refined my selection along A. m. mellifera lines, I noticed it far less although my observation skills were not diminished.

    As far as disturbing a balling cluster goes I have had roughly equal occasions when the bees have dispersed easily and others where they have balled in a more determined fashion. I am less inclined to attribute the behaviour to spring than Wedmore and I cannot link the behaviour to the hissing noise mentioned, but that could easily be poor observation on my part, as I was not actually looking for it.

    Introduction of new queens has been cited as being a possible cause, balling is associated with new queens, especially in the settling down period after introduction, but the behaviour that I have seen where workers crowd a queen cage, it not the same as that of balling, it seems aggressive and is accompanied by much biting of wire mesh cage screens, but the milling about is not present and the clustering is not as tight.

    Balling is mostly considered as some sort of attack on the queen, but it could also be considered as shielding the queen from some possible attacker(s). In fact it is possible that both alternatives could be true under different circumstances. Some texts consider the death of the balled queen is a certainty, but I have seen queens that have been balled on serial occasions, they were noted as being practically hairless, black and shiny, whether that was as a result of balling I do not know because it could equally have been a defect in the queen that caused the shiny hairless appearance and the defect itself may have been the reason for balling.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Louisa, VA
    Posts
    68

    Default Re: Queen "balling." What is the cause?

    Dan,

    I'm pretty sure there was only one ball in the bottom of the NUC, but that is interesting. I have never heard of a roaming swarm trying to overtake an established colony!

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