When a capensis colony loses her queen, the older bees start attacking the younger, predominantly fuzzy, bees. Chattiing to Dr Geoff Tribe about this phenomenon, Geoff revealed that in about 75% of the time this is what’s happening because the younger bees still have pharangeal glands that can produce protein, and so they can more readily develop their ovaries to lay eggs. What we observed, is that these bees being attacked become submissive, but try to scoot away if they get the chance. Geoff’s theory, and it’s an interesting one, is that the other 25% who become laying workers in the older age group, lay only drone eggs. What is happening with all the fighting and killing going on in the capensis colony, is that the older bees are responding to too much queen pheromone in the hive and need to eliminate the excess queens. But they find workers who are producing queen pheromone to a greater or lesser degree. They pull around and harass those with low amounts, and then sting those with larger amounts. Reading through various research done on Cape honeybee behaviour, those bees with larger amounts of queen pheromone are often the 8 day old bees. The bees which eventually become the laying workers are those which were able to evade the ‘aggressors’ and become pseudo-queens whose pheromone level is as high as that of a queen and are able then to repel these aggressors chemically who then form a ‘court’ around her. During this phase of fighting, which can last several days, one can hear a high-pitched ‘piping’ of the victims in distress.
In a capensis colony, potential laying workers are ready to fully develop the moment the queen is lost. The more ‘capensis‘ it is, the faster they requeen and the lower the slaughter. Construction of emergency queen cells can begin immediately. They build a queen cell around a 2 to 3 day old egg laid by the lost queen and rear it on royal jelly until it emerges as a queen. The Cape bee under such circumstances only rears two or three queen cells, whereas scutellata may have 40 emergency queen cells on one frame – usually in rows at the bottom of the comb.
If the colony is completely queenless and has no eggs from which an emergency queen can be reared, the laying workers will take over. Once there are ‘functional laying workers’ in the hive the bees will begin constructing one or two queen cup cells. These are highly attractive to laying workers – Geoff, in his research, counted 64 eggs in one and they were filled up again the next day – and from an egg laid by a laying worker in this cup, a queen will be reared, will leave on a mating flight and will return to lay eggs as normal.