Does a Wounded Queen Heal?

Dear Editor,

Does a wounded queen heal?

I wonder if your readers would be interested in the story of a queen wounded, near squished, by clumsy handling, and a unique opportunity to follow her recovery visually over the next three days and follow-up for six months?  I have never read such an account or even mention of wound healing in bees.

On the 18th February 2010, while putting bees in a display case for a show, I identified the queen and set about to mark her. Knowing full well that you do not grasp a queen by the abdomen, I attempted to pick her up by the thorax, or (as I usually do, by the wings), but she moved startlingly quickly (at least that's my excuse) and I did grab her by the abdomen. I felt that horrible, sickening "squish" sensation and knew immediately that she was damaged. A bleb of white abdominal content, 1-2 mm in size, extruded from the junction of thorax and abdomen.

My first thought, of course, was to abandon her to her fate and go to another hive for the display, but on reflection, I realised that here was a unique clinical opportunity to see what happened to her in the next three days when the bees would be on visual display. So she was marked and placed with relevant frames in the display case.

Next morning, when the covers were removed from the display case, I fully expected to see the body of the dead queen on the floor, but NO! She was on the comb, alive, moving freely, and apparently well with no sign of the abdominal rupture. And so she remained for the next three days, after which she was replacedin her hive.

On 28th February, the hive was opened to see her again, but we could find no trace of her.  When about to put the lid on the hive and close it in despair, the queen was found on a bystander's sock! She was still alive and apparently well. There was no doubt that it was the original queen because the mark was distinctive. Evidently she had been on the first frame removed which had been placed outside the hive near our feet.

When the hive was next opened a week or so later, several supersedure queen cells were present, and it was assumed that the bees perceived that their queen had been irreparably damaged and was no longer competent. She was doomed! But some seven weeks later, on 29th April, there was no sign of queen cells and our brave queen was alive and actively producing brood. 

Good queens are hard to come by – make sure you don’t harm them with poor handling!

The hive was left undisturbed over the winter, to be examined again as the on August 15th as the weather warmed. The colony had come through winter amazingly well with several near full combs of capped honey in the super, and 3-4 frames of pupae and larvae in the brood box. Our queen was easily found and still well identified by her original thoracic mark.

I suspect that this story is unique, for who would normally bother to try and keep a wounded queen? And how often would one have an opportunity to observe the process of dying, rejection or healing so closely? I should be interested to hear if anyone has had a similar experience.

Author: Jim Wright