What Is A Queen Cup? Get The Facts

Several queen cups on a brood frame

Queen cups are often found on hives which causes some beekeepers to busily tear them off. Will removing them help your bees or just distract them from their work?

This guide looks at what a queen cup is and how to deal with them if you find one. We’ll also look at queen cells and how they compare.

What’s a queen cup?

A queen cup is a small wax cup that is typically found on the bottom of the frame. It is bigger than a regular cell and may be used in the future to rear a new queen. Beekeepers should not be alarmed if they discover frames with an open cup.

  • Worker bees make them by enlarging a normal cell.
  • The cups often go unused for years.
  • A hive may have dozens of cups depending on the bees’ genetics.
  • Swarm cells are usually built on the bottom edge of brood comb, while supersedure cells are constructed on the comb’s face.

Why do bees make queen cups?

A queen cup is made big enough to house a developing new queen. Worker bees often make them in case they’re needed in the future. Seeing them doesn’t always mean they intend to create a new queen.

Queen cups provide a safe place for rearing supersedure queens that replace the current queen bee. Another use for a cup is rearing swarm cells in a strong colony that divide and search for a new home. Learn why a hive plans to swarm here.

Over time, worker bees may demolish their queen cups and use the beeswax on other hive sections. They may also leave them unused.

Tip: brush up on the role of a queen bee and how a bee becomes a queen.

Closeup of comb with a queen cup
A queen cup is easily to spot.

Queen cup vs. queen cell – what’s the difference?

A queen cup is an extended beehive cell that’s empty but has been earmarked for rearing a queen. It is a natural, healthy part of a hive and can be left untouched.

Queen cells are a greater concern for beekeepers. They signal the colony is rearing a queen and swarming in the next few days is highly likely.

A queen cup looks like a tiny teacup, while a queen cell has been extended further and looks like a peanut. Cells are longer and easier to spot, although they’re often covered up by nurse bees nurturing and protecting the developing queen inside.

Queen cell close up. Swarm cell or a supersedure cells.
A queen cell looks like a peanut shell.

Should I remove queen cups?

A queen cup is a natural part of the colony that often gets built in spring and summer. Removal isn’t necessary as it’s usually empty. Worker bees usually rebuild them after beekeepers rip them off, so it is easier to leave them untouched.

You may want to lift up the frame and check if the cell contains an egg. If you see an egg or larva, the cup will get extended by worker bees over the next few days. In this situation, the colony may not have a queen so destroying the cup could impact them negatively.  

If you suspect your colony doesn’t have a queen, check out this article on how to detect a queenless hive.

Image of a cell and a developing queen bee
Removing queen cells may leave your hive queenless.

Should I remove queen cells?

Some beekeepers will remove queen cells, while others believe this process is futile. We think that queen cells are a positive part of colony survival and shouldn’t be messed with. However, you can check the hives and act appropriately:

If the queen is still laying plenty of eggs, then the colony is doing well and needs to divide. Hive growth is an excellent opportunity for beekeepers to take the queen cell frame and set up a new colony.

Ten or more queen cells across multiple frames near the bottom signals the old queen is going to swarm.

If new eggs are scarce and queen cells are minimal, the existing queen is probably getting replaced. Rather than interfere, leave the bees to sort this out.

When do bees build queen cups?

Worker bees will build queen cups in spring and summer in the United States and parts of the world that experience cold winters. In tropical climates, they can build them any time of year.

Hives swarm in spring and summer, so cups are mainly constructed around this time.

Old vs. new queen cups – how to identify them

New queen cups are well-formed with neat edges and a soft, fragile texture. You’ll also notice their edges are rounded over. Older ones are easy to spot as they’re much darker and have turned hard.

A hand holding old comb with used queen cells
Old cups and cells are a darker color.

The stages of building a queen cell

  1. Queen cup: Queen cells are made by building onto a queen cup.
  2. Open queen cell: Once the cell is built, a queen egg is deposited, and the top is left off for up to 4 days.
  3. Capping: The cell is capped to protect the larva from predators during its development.
  4. Emergence: A queen emerges from the cell with help from the nurse bees.

It takes an average of 16 days from the time of egg-laying until the bee emerges.  

Check out how bees become a queen to learn more about this topic. Otherwise, you may want to check out the lifecycle of a honey bee.

Does the queen lay eggs in a queen cup?

The queen may lay in a queen cup during natural queen raising. She will do this when the conditions are suitable for supersedure or swarming.

Why do bees make a new queen?

Honey bees will make a new queen if the original one is missing or incapable of doing her job. They’ll also make one if the hive decides to divide and needs a queen bee for the new colony.

Tip: Check out how a bee becomes a queen to learn more about them.

Fast facts about queen cups

  • Empty cups may be torn down by the worker bees and re-purposed for other hive parts.
  • Worker bees may build dozens of cups in a hive or just a few.
  • The number of cups built depends on the bee colony’s genetics.

Summing up

Queen cups are essential for rearing queen bees if the need arises. Although beekeepers may remove them, there’s little point in doing this. The colony may not want to swarm, so leaving the cups in place isn’t a problem.

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