Laying workers


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?


8 responses to “Laying workers

  1. Kelly
    I have successfully used two other methods to introduce a new queen, and a third being the NUC combination which you are now doing with your problem hive. Both the other methods involve introducing the new queen in the traditional way. But in one method I introduced the new queen on a frame of open brood. In the other method I simply let the queen stay in the cage a few days longer than normal. Both these methods were recommended to me by reliable long time beekeepers. The “push-in” cage, which I know you use frequently, is yet another method which I have not tried, but believe will work. In any of these methods I would monitor for signs of hostility toward the queen before releasing her manually. As we both know, there is no guarantee any queen will be accepted, but I have had success with these methods. Cheers! Love your blog.

    • Thank-you, Max, you are kind. Question…what happens to the laying workers when you introduce a queen? I am so curious to know if the queen’s pheremones shut down worker egg-laying or if the colony’s workers recognize their laying mates as queens and reject a proper queen. I would love to confidently ditch the whole messy move-all-the-bees procedure!

      • Kelly
        I am not sure if it is the queen pheromone, or the odor and presence of viable brood, or a combination of the two. But I lean toward the queen pheromone theory because simply introducing a capable queen into the colony “can” rectify the situation. I was cautioned to leave the caged queen in the cage longer than normal to insure no hostility toward the queen existed. I just taped over the candy end of the cage and left it 7 or 8 days, removed the tape, observed no hostility toward the queen during the tape removal, then returned the cage to the colony. Upon my next inspection on day 10 the queen was released and observed moving about on a frame. I don’t know if the laying worker was “done in” by her hive mates, or the presence of the new queen caused a reversal of the physiological changes to her body which had allowed her to lay unfertilized eggs. ? But it worked.

  2. Kelly
    According to a entomologist we know a frame with open brood, eggs and larva will stop the laying worker.

  3. Long Winded, Not Simple But the cure is in the last paragraph

    A hopelessly queenless hive is totally broodless. At this point some of the workers’ ovaries are activated and they lay unfertilized eggs. In both workers and queens there is a little gland near the venom sac called DuFour’s gland. A mated queen produces one set of pheromone chemicals, but unmated queens and normal workers produce another set of pheromone chemicals from this gland. HOWEVER, the DuFour’s gland pheromone of laying workers produce is very similar to a mated queen’s. That pheromone tells the hive “there is a mated queen here”.

    Honey bee brood produce a group of pheromone chemicals which act in different ways. There are 3 which suppress the ovary development of workers. Also the Queen Mandibular Pheromone of a mated queen suppresses worker ovary development (but apparently not as much as brood pheromone).

    SO, in order to reverse a laying worker hive (and this is easier said than done), you need to supply around 2 or 3 frames of brood of all ages to this hive. It will be readily accepted. Then introduce a CAGED queen between in between these brood frames and wait – up to 2 weeks or more – until the queen is accepted. Add a frame of brood if it takes this long.

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