Do You Have a Drone Laying Queen?
Frequent hive inspections during the warm season helps beekeepers ensure that everything is going well. This is a necessary skill when keeping honey bees. A good brood pattern with worker brood and some drone brood is normal. Finding all drone brood and no worker brood is not good. You may have a drone laying queen – it is time for action.
First, let’s talk about your queen bee. Is your bee colony queen right ? What does that mean? It means that your colony has a good queen that is performing as she should.
Not only do you need a queen bee in the hive, you need a well-mated one ready to lay eggs and produce worker bees!
Drones are male bees that do no work in the hive. They play an important role in the colony but female workers are essential for colony survival.
Only a fertile queen bee can lay both worker and drone eggs. It is important that we beekeepers keep track of what is going on inside the hive. Failure to notice a problem can lead to catastrophe.
Hive Inspections Are Important
Timely hive inspections are an important part of managing honey bees. Perhaps, the most important aspect of a bee hive inspection is to verify the status of the queen bee.
It is not enough to just see her in there. We need to know that she is capable of producing workers. The best way to evaluation your queen is to look at the brood pattern.
Looking For A Good Brood Pattern
What is a good brood pattern? The answer to this question depends somewhat on the time of year.
But generally a good brood pattern is defined as compact sections of worker brood. Brood should be placed together in a general area. As the colony grow in population the brood nest area grows too!
Worker brood is a smooth expanse of capped cells (or larva). You may notice what looks like a pattern on the covers of capped brood.
This is normal and no cause for concern. Some caps have little markings and some do not.
Tan is the common color for capped cells because the bees re-use valuable beeswax for this purpose. A few empty cells is no problem.
A colony with a drone layer queen will have no worker brood. And you may find patches of brood scattered around on the frame.
How much brood should we see? Well, that depends. During late Fall, very early Spring or times of nectar dearth, you may not see a lot of brood.
That’s okay. If it is a time of colony build up with ample food available, lack of a good solid brood pattern may mean trouble.
Occasionally, a beekeeper will find a bad brood pattern and evidence of a drone layer.
This is not something that we ever want to see. All drone brood with no good worker brood requires beekeeper intervention!
What is Drone Brood?
Drones are male bees. Their role in the colony is to leave the hive and mate with virgin queens. In this way, the genetics of the hive are spread.
It is easy to see why the majority of bees in a colony must be workers and not drones. Many more workers are needed to sustain the hive.
The queen bee can choose whether or not to fertilize the eggs that she lays.
When a queen lays an egg and does not fertilize it with semen stored in her body, it will develop into a drone (or male bee).
A normal honey bee colony only needs so many drones during the warm season.
And, normally no drones are allowed to live through Winter. A colony full of nothing but drones can not survive.
What Does Drone Brood Look Like ?
When bee larva are ready to pupate,(make the transition from larva to adult) worker bees cap the cells with a wax covering.
This capped brood stage is the final phase before the new bee emerges as an adult.
Worker brood caps form a smooth pattern that is slightly raised fro the surface of the comb. But, drone brood looks different.
Drone bees (males) are larger and require a little more space than workers. The capped cells of drone brood will protrude slightly from the honeycomb surface. This creates a bullet appearance.
Normal drone brood is usually grouped together in small patches on the outside edges of worker brood.
Drone brood is not a bad thing. It is a natural needed function of the colony.
However, if drone brood is the only thing you have – that’s not good. Not good at all! You have a drone layer.
This is exactly what happened to me in regards to one hive. Upon inspection, I did not find large smooth areas of capped worker brood OR small groups of drone brood. Instead I found a mess.
A Hive With No Worker Brood
This hive has a serious problem. Due to the fact that we see no regular worker brood, we know that only unfertilized eggs are being produced.
Laying Workers May Develop
If a colony is queenless, they will try to make a queen but they are not always successful.
Female worker bees will begin to lay eggs if a colony remains queenless for a long time. (Usually 2-3 weeks with no brood.)
Only drones can be produced from eggs laid by female workers. We call these individuals “laying workers“.
Some beekeepers will refer to the laying worker as a drone layer (and that’s true) and sometimes the term drone layer is used in reference to a bad queen honey bee.
Laying workers (drone layers) continue to produce drones until the colony collapses. They can not make a new queen with no fertilized eggs.
Laying worker solutions abound across the internet – I just like to combine them with a queen right hive for a couple of weeks.
Later, I can split the combination back into 2 hives if I wish – I simply give one half a new queen.
Queens Can Become Drone Layers
Another reason for having a drone layer colony – you have a bad queen.
Why would your nice fertile queen go bad? Because, a queen bee can run out of stored semen.
The queen bee only mates during her early days. Semen is stored in a special organ inside her abdomen.
When the semen supply is exhausted, she will be unable to fertilize the eggs that she lays. Now she is…. you guessed it – a drone laying queen.
It is not uncommon to receive queens that are not well mated. This is especially true in early Spring when bad weather makes mating more difficult.
Laying Worker or Drone Layer Queen?
Laying workers do not have the long abdomen of a queen bee. They usually deposit eggs on the side of the cell wall instead of centered in the bottom.
They tend to scattered the eggs around instead of placing them in adjacent cells. And they often lay more than 1 egg in each cell.
However, if you find the old queen in the hive and she is still trying to do her job – you probably have a failing queen. She will need to be removed from the colony and replaced with a mated queen.
No matter why it has happened, a drone layer is a death sentence to the colony.
Colony size will decrease until pest, disease or robber bees cause the colony to collapse.
Want to see what I did with this colony? Check it out – Fixing a Drone Laying Queen Hive