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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I'm posting this in the Bee Forum, because it seems to have implications well beyond queen rearing.

For many years now, I've been regularly raising many queens each year. My mother queens are homozygous for the Cordovan color trait, though all of the daughters are not homozygous for the trait - most are. All of my home-raised queens are either the color of Italian honey bees, or, as it were, Cordovan Italian honey bees, with only a few workers in a hive or two, being darker colored.

Considering the above, when I see a swarm approaching my apiary, and it alights on the vertical shade cloth, immediately adjacent to the entrances of nucs or mating nuc colonies, and all their bees and queens are very dark bees, I take the time to observe them and, if necessary, ameliorate the effects of their presence and behavior. So far, these have all been dark bees and queens, exclusively.

But, in order to avoid digressing too far, I will now focus on what inspired me to start this thread:

Late this afternoon, I had gone into my queen rearing apiary to check on my queen cells. As I was approaching the cell builder, I observed a swarm arriving just outside the entrance to a nearby mating nuc (which was between mated queens - occupied by a recent virgin), they were alighting on the shade cloth immediately opposite the nuc entrance (only a few inches away). But, what alarms me the most about their presence; which does alarm me greatly - after I captured and caged their own dark, plump queen, was the presence of a Cordovan Italian virgin queen which the swarm was in the process of balling to death (she and all the swarm bees were still on the outside of the shade cloth). It would seem that this swarm somehow intercepted the virgin on a flight, practice or mating, and killed her, prior to attempting a take-over of her colony. No wonder so many Cordovan virgins don't make it back from their mating flights.

I guess it's good that I don't maintain any dark colored bees in my apiaries, so it's easier to discern when this happens.

* * * * * * * * *
It seems like the process of usurpation is much more insidious than I ever imagined.

Hardly seems like a simple thing like an usurpation, it seems more like a coup.
 

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Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

This bring to question one thing at the moment. For this swarm to want to take over a mating nuc, just how large of a box are you running for mating nuc's? Most usurpation cases involve standard sized NUC boxes and full sized hives that are weak.
 

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Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

Last year I had two marked virgins being balled while out on mating flights. It was bazzar. I thought it was a little cast swarm until I caught them and pulled the bees off her. I was stumped, but thought perhaps she was lost and stuck her nose in someone else's business. I never happened again the rest of the season.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

I've observed and dealt with many dozens of these usurpation/take-over swarms in the past twenty years, or so. This is the first one that I discovered had seemingly followed a virgin back to her hive, to then kill her and take over her colony. Perhaps some or all of the others were also accomplished in similar fashion, but I failed to notice. I will be watching to see if other virgins are being killed during other usurpation events.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

I'm almost certain that the possible preponderance of AHB genetics in the area is responsible for these episodes. That doesn't really matter, even if it did, there's nothing much I could do to change that. I must simply figure out ways to proceed, while dealing with these realities, and to continue working to keep the traits I want, while reducing the traits I don't want.

This usurpation/coup issue, is, at least for now, straightforward, I can identify most of them by their darker color. If they managed to pick up the Cordovan gene, it could evolve into a much more difficult situation. For now all of my colonies are light colored bees, and the ones usurpating have all been dark.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

This bring to question one thing at the moment. For this swarm to want to take over a mating nuc, just how large of a box are you running for mating nuc's? Most usurpation cases involve standard sized NUC boxes and full sized hives that are weak.
That particular nuc was a 5-frame deep. Though I've had several events where usurpation swarms take over a half dozen 5-frame medium nucs, almost simultaneously. They haven't yet bothered with 3-frame medium condo mating nucs. They do sometimes work at my full-size colonies, in one or more 8-frame medium supers. This is part of the reason I like to mark each queen as soon as she begins laying.

Killing my virgin queens while they're out on flights, after following them back to their hives, is just so insidious, it makes me cringe when I think about it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

Final resolution, the next day, I harvested the wild swarm (which was now clustered on the cage I had put their queen into. I hung it to a branch by a piece of twine. I cut it off and the swarm stayed with the cage. I then shook the swarm bees onto the top of the now queenless nuc they had been trying to take over. I released the queen into the nuc and the swarm bees promptly joined her. In a few days, after she begins to establish her brood nest, I will remove her and replace her with another ripe cultivated queen cell.

So, instead of having a likely AHB colony, I will hopefully wind up with another, headed by one of my own cultured queens.
 

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Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

There's a science fiction short story in there somewhere, Joseph. It's fascinating and at the same time a bit frightening.

I'm thinking also of how many times this must happen unobserved and the beekeeper totally unaware of the usurpation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Re: What the %&$#? Ultimate usurpation.

Barry,
I've had some thoughts along similar lines. Puts me in mind of the Outer Limits episode, titled Zzzzz, where a queen honey bee could transform herself into a woman, and back again.

If my queen rearing and mating apiary weren't beneath a large mesquite tree, and behind a six foot high, vertical wall of tan shade cloth, to reduce morning and evening sun hitting them, also to make them less noticeable to passers by, I'm sure I would not have been able to make the connection that this usurpation swarm had most likely followed the young virgin back to her hive, then jumped her before she could even fly past the shade cloth to access her hive. If they had waited until she had flown past the shade cloth, I would still be underestimating them.

I've been thinking of calling the local bee lab, tomorrow, to discuss this observation with them. I'm curious to find out if anyone else has reported any similar observations.
 
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