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Queen Cells 101

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

What can you tell from a queen cell? Quite a bit, if you know what you're looking for. Below I'll share some photos and tips for analyzing the queen cells that you may find in your hive and knowing how to react when you find them.

TOP TIP: Never remove a queen cell until you have found your queen! More than once, I've pinched a cell too quickly only to finish my inspection and find that the hive is actually queen less and needed that cell!

Identifying a Queen Cell

Queen cells always hang vertically from the frame and the opening is always straight down.

New beekeepers are often fooled by the build up of large drone cells on the bottom of a frame. They can be very big, but unless they are pointing straight down, they are not queen cells.

Swarm Cells

The most common of all the queen cells (unless you're grafting them), you are going to want to know what a swarm cell looks like and what to do when you find one (or a dozen!).

Swarm cells are typically found on the bottoms of frames. They're very easy to see when they are actually hanging off the frame, as they are in the second photo below. But often they are a little higher on the frame, at the bottom of the brood nest (where the brood doesn't extend all the way down). If you're seeing queen cells and trying to decide what type they are, think of the 'top' and 'bottom' in terms of where the rest of the brood is and not necessarily the top and bottom of the frame.

Tea cups are kind of like little warning shots. You want to have a peek inside them to see if there is any royal jelly and/or an egg, but if not, they're just telling you that they're starting to think about swarming.

If you're seeing something this long, or a cell that is already capped, you may already be too late. Don't pinch this cell until you've found your queen! If you do find her, you need to act immediately to thwart the swarm (more on this soon!).

When you are seeing dozens of swarm cells, it can be really hard to prevent swarming by just pinching cells. If you are determined not to split, you will need to shake all the bees and inspect every frame closely for cells. One missed cell and your bees will still swarm.

Supercedure Cells

Supercedure cells can be the trickiest to identify because it's not always obvious to us WHY the bees are making them. The tend to be in the upper half of the brood nest and they will form nice big peanuts on the frame.

Sometimes we will pinch a supercedure cell (after we've found the queen!) and check back in a week to see if they have built more. This will give us an idea of how determined they are to supersede their queen. It can be good for the hive to allow them to supersede, but it does mean no new brood for approximately a month, so you might also choose to request the hive yourself.

Emergency Cells

Emergency cells can be found anywhere in the hive. They are made when the queen has died suddenly and the bees use an egg that she left behind to make a new queen for themselves. They are often smaller and more irregular than swarm or supercedure cells. Do not pinch an emergency cell unless you have a plan to requeen the hive!

Open Cells

If you find a queen cell that's already open, it no longer really matters what kind it was; you've got a virgin!

Do not try to requeen a hive with a virgin in it. The bees will usually stay loyal to their new queen and it can become expensive and frustrating for you! If you find open cells, just close up the hive and check for eggs in two weeks.

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