Two weeks ago a National colony (run as a Warré) was flying well; good activity and pollen collected.
Yesterday on a rare fine day, I noticed bee traffic to be heavy with drones – every other bee returning seemed to be a drone; worker traffic was light and there was no pollen. I suspected the queen had run out of sperm( held in her spermathea after mating) or had been lost during a mating flight; the queen or a laying worker was laying unfertilised eggs resulting in drones.
I opened the hive and found patches of tall domed drone brood on six frames, as well as many drones. There was unsealed brood, a few sealed worker cells and 4 mature opened queen cells; a little bit of chalk brood but no sign of foul-brood. There was lots of pollen and honey. We saw no queen.
In nature this colony would be doomed. Some beeks would introduce a frame with eggs so the colony can raise a new queen, but is that wise?
Think of the circumstances:
Workers have been dying without replacement; the colony is reduced in number and bees will be older than the ideal age of young nurse bees needed to produce royal jelly to tend to a developing queen. Without the number of workers needed to produce a decent queen, the result will be a host of small queen cells raised in stress and haste from which will hatch a ‘scrub’ queen of poor quality.
By the time the queen hatches (18 days later) and gets mated (another 4 or 5 days at best) most of the workers will have died ( they only live about six weeks in summer) and there will be few workers to raise brood, feed them properly and keep them warm until they hatch after another 21 days.
If the colony does manage to survive it will be in poor condition.
I decided to toss the bees in front of a queen-right hive. A few bees tried the entrance, were challenged by guard bees but allowed to pass, a few more followed and started nasenov fanning at the entrance. After 15 minutes the entrance was jammed as bees shuffled into the hive. It then started to rain – again! and we erected a rain cover over the hive and bees outside. We left them to sort themselves out, and took the National hive away to harvest honey and wax. We will return to check for bees which might have returned to the old site.
We lost a colony but reinforced another. In nature bees will drift from queen-less nests to queen-right colonies and the nest will deteriorate as robbers plunder stores and wax moths move in.
These are my observations, thoughts and action. I will report any interesting developments.
John, Stockbridge, Hampshire