What Does a Capped Queen Cell Look Like?

A common pair of questions we hear is, “What does a queen cell look like?  How do you know it’s a queen instead of a worker?”  Here is a photo showing both a queen cell and worker cells.  Please ignore the glove edge that is also in the pic; I was working in bright sunlight and couldn’t see the screen to check what was in the shot.  

Look at the center of the photo.  Now look a little bit to the right of that.  See the long, peanut-looking thing?  That is a capped queen cell.  The cell is capped at around 9 days of age (meaning 9 days after the egg was laid) and the queen bee will emerge around 16 days of age, which makes this cell in the picture between 9 days and 16 days of age.

The flat, tan-colored (capped) cells to the right of the queen cell? Those are regular worker bee capped cells. Worker larva is also capped at about 9 days of age, just like queen cells are.  Unlike the queen cell, however, worker bees don’t hatch until around day 21.  They get approximately 5 more days to develop before they hatch than the queen does, despite their smaller size.  Most of the worker brood on this frame has already hatched out, accounting for the empty, dark cells.

This kind of information–information about brood– is one of the many things we look for when we are inspecting the hives.  This frame made for an easier photo to share because it had so many empty cells that it would help make it easier to see the queen cell.  Imagine this entire frame covered in bees, a moving mass of bees walking on its surface, bees on top of bees.  Frequently that is what we see when we first remove a frame from the hive so we have to watch the frame for a bit to try to see what is underneath all the bees moving on the surface of the frame.

While one might think that, because of the size of the capped queen cell in the photo, it is easy to spot them immediately, that is not always the case.  Remember, there are usually many, many bees on a frame when we take it out of the hive, making it challenging to see what is underneath them.  Before this picture was taken, the frame had already been handled quite a bit, causing many agitated bees to take flight, and then set aside to let the remaining bees settle down for this photo opportunity.  Even with the bit of leather glove showing, I still wanted to share what a queen cell looks like. This one is a great example.

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