No, it’s not the latest special at Dairy Queen. It’s the super-sized cell that bees build to rear a new queen. Queen cups are a fascinating example of bee democracy in action. Most of the time, there are multiple queen cups in varying stages of completion: some bees are adding to them, while others are breaking them down. Eventually something will tip the scales, the cell is capped, and a new queen is born.
Bees create queens for various reasons, but they fall into two major categories: to replace a failing or dead queen (supercedure), or in preparation for a swarm to leave the hive.
We recently found a capped queen cell in one of our hives. It seems to be a swarm cell, based on the location and the fact that the queen is alive and healthy. On the other hand, you usually find dozens of swarm cells, not just one. For now, we’ll just watch and wait to see if any more of them pop up. If so, we may decide to split the hive to avoid swarming.