More August clean-up in the bee yard…this colony failed to produce a viable queen after a mid-season split to control varroa. For any number of reasons, the bees found themselves hopelessly queenless, setting the stage for the development of laying workers. The laying pattern is the give-away here. A queen that is poorly-bred or not bred at all will lay eggs in the normal position, singly and in the bottom-center of the cell. Laying workers, with their shorter abdomens, have difficulty reaching the bottom of the cells. The eggs they lay are frequently multiple and nearer the sides of the cells. If you zoom in close on this photo, you can see that some of the cells are fairly littered with eggs. A colony in this situation is doomed; worker eggs are unfertilized and so can only result in a hive full of hungry drones with a dwindling population of workers to feed them.
The method I’ve used to deal with laying worker colonies is to remove all the boxes 10-20′ away from the original site. (Some beekeepers go farther away, but my home yard is a little small for that.) An empty box of frames gets set up in the original location and all the bees shaken or brushed from the frames at a distance. The reasoning is that although laying workers look like all the other workers (and are thus difficult to find and remove), their developed ovaries weigh them down and make flying tough. They get stranded away from the hive while all the normal workers return home. I’ve had some luck with this procedure, though it is a little labor-intensve. In this case, I ended up popping a queenright nuc on top of the box of returning workers and combining them with newspaper. Alternatively, a new queen could be installed.
Any other good ideas out there for dealing with laying worker colonies?