Hive in trouble?


I know that my bees swarmed once this year (as I managed to capture it), and I think they may have actually swarmed twice. When I look at the hive, there seems to be lots of coming and goings but no pollen coming in. There is also a queen cell visible in the observation window, but it has been there for a couple of weeks now. So I’m not sure what is happening there.

Looking at the hive today, I saw that there is an unusually high number of drones inside. My concern is that there has been a failed queen, and that the colony now has a laying worker. If this is the case, there is probably nothing I can do about it but wanted to check to see if anyone else has any ideas on what could be going on and also any potential ways forward.

Graham Reading, Berkshire

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5 Responses to Hive in trouble?

  1. johnmkubwa says:

    Graham, When(date?) did your colony swarm? It can take up to 4 weeks for the old queen’s brood to hatch out before the new queen will start to lay. Without brood to feed there is a lower requirement to collect pollen. There are also many drones about at this time of year; I have heard that colonies can produce thousands depending on how they see the requirement for males in the local area!

    ‘Lots of comings and goings’ is a good sign that the colony is content. Colonies without a queen can become listless, with drones cluttering up the entrance; they also become susceptible to robbing as other bees and wasps detect all is not right.

    The colony might have become a queen layer in which case you will see fewer workers (as they die out) and more drones.

    Ways forward:
    Wait a bit longer and monitor closely – especially hive weight trend, activity and pollen intake.

    Lift a bar-and-comb in the centre of the topbox and look for eggs as well as examine the brood.
    No eggs -no queen or queen not laying yet. Multiple eggs on the sides of cells could indicate a drone layer or inexperienced queen.
    Preponderance of drone brood to worker brood could indicate laying worker or queen run out of sperm.

    If it is a drone laying situation, I would toss the bees onto the ground 30 metres from the hive site; spray them with sugar syrup (they will clean each other and collect some stores with which to bribe entry into another hive); harvest honey and wax and clean and prepare the hive for new occupants.
    I do not unit colonies as it disrupts a good colony. It ruins the integrity of its wax comb structure and risks introducing disease. If there is a laying worker present (they cannot be identified) there will be much fighting and death of bees.

    Hope that helps
    John, Stockbridge Hants

  2. John, many thanks for this. That is very helpful. Just looking at my diary it looks like it is only 3 weeks since they swarmed on the 17th June. So I guess watch and wait for the best part of the next week to 10 days might be best. After that, I think I may need to have a closer examination of whether there is any brood and what type.

    Graham, Reading Berkshire

    • simplebees says:

      When viewed from the side (through the window) it can be difficult to see if a queen has actually emerged from a queen cell. Also, the bees will sometimes reseal a QC after the queen has emerged. So, as John says, seeing eggs is the only true test.

      As to timing, I use the following as a rough guide:

      Day 0 Egg laid in Queen Cell

      Day 8 QC capped and prime swarm emerges (weather permitting)

      Day 16 first of new queens emerges

      Day 18 (ie prime swarm + 10) likely issuance of first cast

      Day 24 earliest likely appearance of eggs from new queen
      BUT this can be delayed until the last of the brood from the old queen has hatched, which can be anything up to Day 30 or 32.

      Brood produced by laying workers will be scattered and cappings will be raised as for drone brood but the cells will be worker cells, not drone cells. Drone brood left from the old queen will be in drone cells.

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  3. Paul says:

    I live in North Oxfordshire and pollen seems scarce here too right now. I have been watching my 2 colonies and was concerned at the low levels of pollen coming in. I am used to perhaps 1 in 6 bees arriving with full pollen baskets, but it was about 1 in 20, and not full. But this was true of both hives and one was definitely huge and thriving, so I reckoned it was not lack of a queen.
    About 5 days ago I opened the big hive to harvest honey. This is a TBH. I also did a full inspection (I was looking for a queen cell for a friend). I found that the colony had loads of brood at all stages of development, and plenty of drones, but really low levels of pollen stores. I saw the queen. She’s obviously laying and fecund.
    So my conclusion re: pollen was, they must simply be using pollen [to feed brood] as fast as it comes in. There’s just not a lot available right now.

  4. Paul – thanks for your comment. I have been watching the hive closely over the past few days and there is only a small trickle of pollen coming in, probably less than the 1 in 20 you were talking about. I guess the only way to know what is going on is to do what John and Gareth suggest and open the hive to look for brood.

    The hive itself seems quite busy and active with plenty of coming and going. It doesn’t have the listless feel to it that can come with queenlessness. Not sure if they would still be this active with a laying worker. Presumably if it was a laying worker, the other workers would still need to bring in pollen for the drone brood?

    Graham, Reading Berkshire

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