We have received multiple questions about queenless hives lately. When this happens, we usually need to know the following. These are also questions beekeepers can ask themselves each time they inspect the hive to keep it thriving.
- Do you see eggs, larvae, or pupae of all ages?
- Do you know how to recognize eggs and larvae? Day 2 larvae? Day 3?
- Do you have more than one colony? Do you have a spare frame of eggs?
- Do you see eggs from laying workers (there would be multiple eggs per cell and inconsistent laying pattern)?
- How many frames are worker bees covering?
- How many frames of comb have bees drawn?
- Is there more than 20-30% drone comb?
- How many frames have honey storage?
- Do you see queen cells, queen cups, or remnant of queen cells in the comb? If so, how many and where are they located?
- Can you send a clear picture of the comb in question?
- How much honey storage do you see? Are there several frames of honey, just around the edges of the hive, etc.?
- Do you see eggs from laying workers (there would be multiple eggs per cell and an inconsistent laying pattern)?
- Is there more than 20-30% drones?
Eggs in new comb
If you are worried about your queen, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a recent customer question that may benefit our readership about a queenless hive.
I have moved a beehive to AZ. I have looked inside the hive 3-4 times over the last few months and there still isn’t any brood. There are a large amount of bees and a few drones. This is a hive from a nuc I bought last year. I have been checking them since the end of Feb. There is honey available, about 4-5 partial frames. At first I thought they could be robbers. But I think they would have the honey gone by now. There are 4 frames that the bees cover which surprises me. I see no egg cells that I can identify, but this is my first hive.Wouldn’t the brood in different stages of development be plainly visible by now? If I remember correctly the workers only live 6 weeks during the production of honey. Yet these bees are still alive but the amount of honey is not increasing it seems the same. I lost the other hive over the winter the hive top blew off during a week of strong winds and the hive froze.
There are a few drones but I’d expect to see more. On the bottom of the hive there are a lot of dead bees which surprises me that housekeeping hasn’t cleaned up.
I don’t think there is a Queen in the hive.
We usually have replacement queens for the first 2 weeks after the package pickup, which was early April this year. Usually beekeepers can catch queenless hives on their first inspection, about 4 days after installing. Did you see eggs/brood then?
Typically when a colony is queenless/broodless for an extended period, more than 3-4 weeks, they will start laying workers. Workers will begin laying eggs. Those eggs are identifiable by their position inside the cell and there are usually multiple eggs in a cell.
If you don’t see any signs of laying workers, it is possible there is a queen in the colony that is not laying yet or stopped laying. The timeframe from supersedure of an old queen until the new queen is laying is about 1 month. So it’s possible to see no eggs for one month.
It is also possible that the bees requeened themselves or swarmed and the new queen failed to mate or to return from a mating flight, or a number of other things that could go wrong, and result in a failed attempt by the bees to maintain a queen-right colony.
Sometimes bees will requeen themselves and the new queen fails after only laying only a frame or so of eggs. Then they start over. They requeen again. There are many different scenarios that can result in a queenless colony.
Without a queen, the colony will surely dwindle and die. If it has been more than a month and a half since you saw any brood, you need to take action and give the bees a new queen. Without another colony to use as an egg donor, then you will have to order a queen from elsewhere. We usually find queens in the American Bee Journal or through a Google search.
Introducing a new queen to a colony that has been queenless for an extended period of time is very difficult. Also, there are no nurse bees that are the right age to care for brood. However you decide to fix it, it needs to be done quickly.
You will spend $30 on a queen and $30 on shipping, and the bees may still kill the queen. Best money spent on fixing that colony would be to buy a package or nuc that already have a good queen and combine them, rather than spend $60 and have them not take to her.