The bees that arrive in a package are not a true colony. It contains a mated queen and a random collection of workers which are vacuumed out of the air at a breeder complex. 4 or 5 thousand of them are put in a small box with a kind of paint can full of sugar syrup that has a few holes poked in it. The bees form a swarm around the food source. Although the bees are from many different colonies they don't molest one another, but if you introduce a strange queen to this motley collection they will attack her and kill her. The workers need a week or so of exposure to her pheromones before they will accept her as their own queen.
But as I said, I was in a hurry, and I removed the wrong cork, releasing her directly into the hive days earlier than planned. I couldn't see what happened to her in the confusion of bees, whether they balled around her and killed her, so I closed up the hive and hoped for the best.
It was May 28th, three weeks later, when I next could look in, and there was no sign of a queen, no sign of any brood (that is larva or pupae) that would be in evidence if a queen were present. I did note that they were constructing "queen cells", which is something a colony will do if the queen is dead or dying. But if there are no larvae a colony can't make a new queen. It didn't occur to me to examine the queen cells closely. I assumed that the remaining colony were simply the package bees, which would continue to work at bringing in nectar until they gradually died off.
Fast forward to June 23nd, nearly 7 weeks after I'd fumbled the hiving. I saw there was still some traffic in and out of the hive, but assumed it was the successful colony robbing out the honey from the dead one.
|Capped brood contain pupae and the open cells white larvae|
But it turns out there is a small colony inside with brood and a healthy supply of nurse bees looking after it. Somehow I must have missed something in that first hive inspection. Maybe the queen was a slow starter. Or, given the small size of the colony, maybe the original queen only survived long enough to lay a few eggs, which the workers nurtured into a new queen, who took a mating flight and is now building up her colony.
She's in there somewhere, though I didn't manage to spot her. I'll look again and see if she has the little spot of paint that the breeders usually put on. Until then, it's a mystery.