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How to Know if Your Hive is Queenless

The importance of the queen honey bee can not be overstated. Though she can not maintain the hive alone, a colony must have a functioning queen bee. Without her, the colony slowly diminishes until there is not enough population to continue. Bees have to ability to recognize the absence of a queen rather quickly. The observant beekeeper notices some of these signals. This leads to suspicions that they have a hive without a queen bee.

Honey bees on frame of empty comb in queenlees hive image.

The Hive Without a Queen Bee

How Long Will a Hive Survive Without a Queen

Due in part to the lack of queen pheromones, worker bees inside the hive detect her absence quickly. Within 15 minutes to 2 hours every member of the colony will realize the queen bee is gone.

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How long a colony can survive without a queen bee depends on several factors. The condition of the colony plays a major role. Did the hive contain plenty of brood in all stages and a good worker population?

Capped brood continues to emerge and support the work force. Eggs and larva continue to be fed by nurse bees. The presence of fresh eggs or very young larva represent an opportunity for the queenless hive.

The Queenless Hive Makes a New Queen

A honey bee colony with a good population of bees and ample fresh eggs will be able to make a new queen bee in most cases.

This is a tenuous time for the bees. Not only do they need to rear a new queen but she will also need to mate and return to the hive to lay eggs.

In nature, this system of queen replacement has worked well for millions of years. But of course, it is not always successful. The beekeeper must check to make sure the bees were successful in their efforts.

Honey bees in a colony with no queen bee a queenless hive image.

Checking the Queen Status of Your Hive

Newer beekeepers often struggle when trying to find their queen bee. And honestly, even experienced beekeepers are not always successful in a large colony.

This is why I often tell students in my online beekeeping class – you don’t always have to find her. Look for signs that a queen is present.

In the brood area if you see eggs – one per cell, adhered to the bottom of the cell – a queen has been present within the last 3 days. If you also see other stages of brood in the hive, most likely your queen is present.

But there are some situations where no brood may be present in the hive through no fault of the queen or a lack of one.

In times of drought or nectar dearth, the bees often reduce laying for a while. Your queen may be present and just fine though no eggs are visible.

Honey bee eggs laid in comb in beehive image.

Queenless Hive Behavior

Every honey bee colony has individual traits. It is difficult to attempt to apply certain mannerisms to bees in general.

However, there are some characteristics that beekeepers often notice in a hive without a queen bee. With experience you can learn to recognize them.

The Queenless Roar

As you spend more time with your bees, you become familiar with the many sounds made by a colony. In a hive without a queen bee you may hear what has become known as the queenless roar.

This is an intense buzz or high pitched whine. It is a different sound than normal colony buzzing. Once you learn to recognize the sound, it become easier to discern in the future. And, not every hive without a queen will do the queenless roar.

Bees are Jittery on the Comb

I think one of the most fascinating things about working with honey bees is the way they continue to work on the comb. Even when the beekeeper is manipulating a frame, the bees continue go about their jobs.

A queenless colony will often be fussy or jittery on the comb. Workers are more inclined to run around on the comb. You may notice much more fanning activity than normal too.

Defensiveness in Hives Without a Queen

Many hives without queen become more defensive than normal. The bees realize this is a dangerous time for the future of the colony. They do not welcome more interference as they attempt to become queen right again.

But, this is not true for every beehive. In some colonies, subdued docile behavior continues even without a queen.

Signs of Queen Problems in the Hive

Hive inspections that reveal no brood or very little fresh brood may indicate a queen problem. Colony population begins to drop and you will see an increased number of drones.

If a honey flow is on, you will find the bees storing more honey in the brood nest area because is there is no brood to care for.

Finding honeycomb cells with multiple eggs in each cell is often a sign of laying workers. When a hive is without a queen bee for a few weeks, worker bees will often begin to lay.

Emerging drone bees and drone brood in a hive without a queen image.

Because worker bees are not able to mate, they can only lay unfertilized eggs that develop into drones bees.

Having too many drones in the colony is not sustainable. They do no work and drone brood is attractive to varroa mites.

How to Requeen a Queenless Hive

If the beekeeper catches the problem in the early stages, it is possible to help a hive without a queen. If they have fresh eggs, they will have already started with process of building queen cells.

The beekeeper needs only to check back in a couple of weeks to ensure the bees’ efforts were successful.

Introducing a new queen (purchased from a bee supplier) is a fast way to get the bees back on track. The colony comes to accept the pheromones of the new queen within a few days.

If other hives are nearby, giving the queenless hive a frame or two of brood (even capped brood) helps to calm the colony.

And one of the easiest ways to help a queenless hive is to combine them with a queen right hive.

You can always split the beehives back apart at a later date or when a good queen become available for purchase.

A Final Word on the Hive Without a Queen Bee

The honey bee colony has a magnificent system for maintain a good queen in the hive. But in nature things don’t always work. An observant beekeeper notices when things go awry in the hive and can assist the colony as needed.

Keeping a hive without a queen on track to become stable again is a great way to ensure healthy, productive beehives.

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