You Have a Drone Laying Queen – Now What?
A major part of keeping honey bees productive is maintaining a good queen bee in your hives. With a good queen, future generations of worker bees are always in the works. A routine inspection reveals only drone brood – now what? Seeing only drone brood in a hive with a queen present is a problem. Most colonies are doomed without intervention – how can you fix a drone laying queen hive?
There are several different ways to deal with a hive full of drone brood. The one use choose depends on your preference and the current condition of the colony.
Replace the Drone Layer Hive Queen with a New One
Any colony that has only been producing drones for a while will be low on worker population. This creates an imbalance in the hive.
Worker bees do not live for very long. A new generation must be constantly emerging or colony population starts to drop.
Give the Colony a New Mated Queen
If you catch the problem while the bee population is still good, you may be able to give your bees a new queen.
This can be as simple as finding the old queen and removing her. Then, purchase a new queen and place her (in a queen cage) in the hive.
Check back in a couple of weeks to be sure the new queen is accepted and laying.
Give the Hive Resources to Make Their Own Queen
In the warm season, there is another way to help a drone laying queen problem. This is the advantage of having more than 1 beehive – you can share resources.
Remove the poor queen from the hive and give them a frame with fresh eggs.
This allows the colony to make a new queen for themselves. This only works well if the problem hive has a strong population of bees.
Worker bees do all the tasks that sustain life in the colony. If the colony has been in trouble for a while – giving them eggs to raise a new queen is not likely to be successful.
Combine the Drone Layer Colony with Another
One of the easiest ways to get a drone laying queen hive back on the path to success is to combine it with a good hive.
A honey bee colony full of drones is running out of time. Yet, if the hive still has a fair population of bees – perhaps they can be saved and become part of another productive colony.
In situations where no queen is available to purchase and no frame of bee eggs is available, combining may be the only option to save the workers in the failing hive.
Failing Queen or Laying Workers
There are 2 conditions that result in the production of solely drone brood.
- the queen bee has run out of semen
- laying workers are present
During mating, a queen honey bee mates with 12-20 drone bees. Their semen is stored inside her body in a special organ called a spermatheca.
There is a finite amount of sperm available. If the queen lives long enough, she may run out of semen and become unable to fertilize eggs.
Also, a queen bee that was poorly mated due to poor flight weather or lack of drones may become a drone laying queen at a young age. No semen means she can not lay fertilized eggs that become workers.
Evidence of Laying Workers
In a hive with no worker brood and cells containing multiple eggs, laying workers are a possibility. Eggs produced by laying workers are often attached to the side of the wax cell instead of the bottom.
Laying workers develop after a colony has been without a good queen for a period of time. Both the queen bee and the bee brood emit pheromones that help regulate colony life.
If a colony is without worker brood for several weeks, some of the worker bees begin to lay eggs. Laying workers can only produce unfertilized eggs – drones.
It is almost impossible to identify laying workers. They look just like the thousands of other colony members. Also, a colony with this problem tends to have more than 1 laying worker.
How to Combine 2 Beehives
Combining a drone laying colony with an established queen right hive is a viable option. This is true whether you have laying workers or just a failing queen.
If the old failing queen is still present, the workers in the queen right colony will kill her.
Any laying workers in the group will be suppressed by the pheromones of normal brood in the newly combined colony.
Steps to Combine Hives With Newspaper
- The bottom deep is the colony with the drone laying queen. I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper lightly sprayed with sugar water on the top bars.
- The new deep with the queen right colony sits on the newspaper. So I have 2 deeps in place – temporarily.
- I want to leave my shallow super (that I will use for winter feed (from the drone layer colony) on the colony as well. So, I place a few more sheets of damp newspaper on top of the 2nd deep and finally the food super.
This leaves me with drone laying colony on the bottom, one queen right deep on top of that, and 1 shallow super (with some bees from the drone laying colony) on top.
In the next few days the bees will eat through the newspaper and work things out.
I had a special situation where I could not move my hive and had a shallow box as well.
In most cases, it does not matter if you have the drone laying colony or the queen right colony on the bottom. The important thing is to have a layer or two of newspaper between the boxes.
Hive Inspection Recheck in 2 Weeks
The sheets of newspaper between the two deeps will allow the 2 different bee families to slowly become introduced. This should result in less fighting and result in one viable colony.
In a couple of weeks I will take the hive apart – condense all the good frames of brood, honey and pollen into 1 box. .
I will remove one of the deeps because I just don’t like to run 2 deeps. And, I may not have a population large enough (right now) to cover all those frames.
This process requires some time, some work and a little luck. However, I will go into winter with 1 strong queen right colony instead of 2 small colonies.
A Final Word of What to Do With a Drone Layer
These are only a couple of ways to deal with a colony containing only drone brood. There are many ways to manage bees and each beekeeper has a favorite.
One is is certain. What to do with a drone layer queen hive is up to the beekeeper, but you must do something – otherwise the hive will die.