Drone Laying Queen or Worker

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

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4 Responses to Drone Laying Queen or Worker

  1. FollowMeChaps says:

    I applaud you John. Too many just think of themselves and do all they can to try and save the bees without thinking about the consequences. I think you were right to let them go.
    Robin.

  2. simplebees says:

    On a similar note, a swarm that I collected a good few weeks ago had shown signs at the entrance that all was not well – bees hanging about rather aimlessly at the hive entrance, a lot of activity with very little purpose and very little pollen being brought in. An inspection showed that the little colony had lost it’s queen and developed laying workers – a small patch of comb was laid with eggs, many to a cell, all at different angles and mainly on the walls of the cell near the bottom (laying workers can’t quite reach the base of the cell). My reasoning followed a very similar line to yours, John, so I moved the hive a couple of feet a day until it was next to a strong colony. Then after a few days in this position, on a day when the bees were flying heavily (yesterday) I moved the laying worker hive to the far side of the apiary with it’s entrance facing away from all other hives. Within less than an hour, all of the flying bees (given the absence of brood, this is effectively all of the bees in the hive) had returned to the old location next to the strong colony and, finding their own hive gone, were gaining entry to the strong colony, showing submissive behaviour as they did so. There was no objection from the guard bees. The laying worker(s) will stay put in the old hive and, on the next fine day I will harvest the comb from the old hive.

    Gareth, West Oxfordshire

  3. alitee says:

    I just wonder, if a weak colony will move into a strong colony, as both yourself and John have noticed, why do you need to move the hives at all? Surely the ‘weak’ bees will find a strong colony to join for themselves or am I up a gum tree?

    • johnmkubwa says:

      Ali, I have noticed that queen-less colonies lose purpose and most bees just hang around the entrance. Unless the bees are close enough to smell the pheromone of a queen-right colony they will not react. Some of the queen-less bees will forage and if they pick up the scent will drift towards it; once in the new colony their loyalties change. The majority of aimless stay-at-home bees will just hang on the comb, weaken and die over a few weeks. Weaker bees will be susceptible to attack by bacteria, wasps and robbing bees; dead bees and detritus will fall to the nest cavity floor and be broken down by bacteria, fungus and mites. This sticky, decaying mess will attract flies, slugs and wax moth.

      I accept this is a natural situation but, in nature, the majority of swarms tend to locate themselves about 300-600 metres (Seeley and Lindauer) from each other. This helps to mitigate risks of cross infection . For convenience ‘beeks’ keep a number of hives relatively close together in apiaries; in a densely populated area, I think we must cull weak colonies to reduce infection risk.

      The moment we put bees in hives they cannot be ‘natural’ ; they are at best ‘near natural’
      John, Stockbridge, Hants

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