I know that some hives can have more than one queen, and I had a hive earlier this year that had two for a short while, while an older queen was being superceded. But now I've discovered one of my hives has three queens -- and it seems to be an arrangement that has lasted a while. Let me explain.
The hive in question was started last year from a package with a marked queen. It did fine last year, made surplus honey, and overwintered well. I left the queen in there for this year and felt I might replace her if I had access to extra queens this fall. However, when I looked into the hive on September 10th I found a new, unmarked mated queen in the hive, along with several supercedure cells that had erupted. I hadn't actually seen the marked queen since July 16th, but there's been lots of brood throughout the intervening time, so it was reasonable to figure that the queen was superceded, right?
Twenty days later I'm looking in the hive and what do I see? The marked queen! I was tired and it was late, and I didn't want to think about it any more. I'd had the experience earlier with a two-queen hive, and figured they'd fight it out and one would reign supreme. If it hadn't happened already. I shuffled the boxes around to entice the queen out of the super and into the deeps and closed it all up.
Today I went into the hive again and found the marked queen in the lower deep, where she should be. Having time, though, I decided to keep looking, and sure enough, I found the unmarked queen in the super I'd placed on the bottom of the stack. I thought I'd separate them with a queen excluder and do something, although I didn't know what. So I set the super on top of the deep, ran and got an excluder, and when I got back -- you guessed it. The queen had gone down into the deep.
I spent the next 15 -- 20 minutes digging through the deeps and finally located the unmarked queen in the upper deep (the marked one was still in the lower deep). And I did a double take -- there was yet ANOTHER unmarked queen on the frame not an inch from the first. I did a quick review in my head: what does a queen look like? Somewhat larger overall than a worker bee: check on both. Longer, tapered, very distinctively shaped abdomen: check again. Black, hairless back of the thorax: final check. Two queens in the upper deep. The two queens both had slightly more pronounced striping on their abdomens than their mother, but there they were.
What to do? I put one in the super and left the other in the deep, then separated all three boxes with excluders. Just a short term set up, with no additional entrances. And now -- I don't know what to do. Is it possible to overwinter these queens? 5 frame nucs set atop the main hive? How best separated?
Apparently, these queens have been coexisting in this hive for over a month, maybe longer. This hive had built up phenomenally and never swarmed throughout the season, despite the queen being on her second year. My partner has suggested that perhaps this line of cooperative queens is an adaptation to mites. I dunno. The other queen I had that coexisted with another queen, if for a short while, was also a marked queen from the same breeder last year.