2.1.1. Short history of queen rearing

The first queen rearing was practiced in ancient Greece, where beekeepers put combs with young larvae into queenless colonies in order to raise emergency queen cells. However, at this time very little was known about the biology of honey bee colonies. In 1565 Jacob Nickel was the first in Europe to describe how honey bees can raise queens from worker eggs or very young larvae. In 1861, H Alley, W Carey and E L Pratt, from Massachusetts, USA, began to produce queens for sale. These early producers used narrow strips of comb containing eggs and larvae which they fastened to the top bars of partial combs. Placed in queenless swarms, the bees built queen cells that could be individually distributed to queenless colonies for mating.

The development of modern queen rearing techniques started in the 19th Century. Gilbert Doolittle (1889) in the USA developed a comprehensive system for rearing queen bees which serves as the basis of current production. Essentially, he used wax cups into which he transferred worker bee larvae to start the production of queen cells. His method of queen rearing in queenright colonies with the old queen isolated by a queen excluder (Doolittle, 1915) is still applied. Doolittle emphasized the importance of simulating a swarming or supersedure situation in the cell building colonies and a constant, rich food supply for the production of high quality queens.

Since 1886, queen bees have been delivered by mail with benefits for the beekeepers as well as the breeders (Pellett, 1938). Losses during transit have been reported from time to time, but in general, shipment by mail is satisfactory. Nowadays, about one million queen bees are annually sent by mail, mainly in the USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia (author estimation).