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Laying Worker

Sometimes, when a colony loses a queen, a worker (or two or three…) decides to start laying eggs. These eggs are unfertilized, so they become Drones! You basically end up with a colony of loafers. You’d think this genetic abnormality would have been bred out of the bees long ago. Maybe it’s a last ditch effort to get the colonies genes out into the world as it dies.

In addition, you can also suddenly notice that your queen is laying all drones. This is a sign of a failing queen (translated, she has used up all of the sperm that she collected in her original mating flight.) This can be resolved by a queen replacement (you cannot pinch this queen, as she has no viable eggs laid for her replacement!)

As to the first case, a colony with drone-laying workers is more difficult to deal with. You know you have one when you have multiple eggs in a cell or eggs that are not centered (or even hanging on the cell walls.) The worker’s abdomen is shorter then the queen’s, so she sort of drops it in, instead of placing it squarely.

I have not (yet) dealt with this issue, but many folks have written that you can shake all of the bees in the hive out on the ground, some distance from the afflicted hive, and this will resolve it. But, the experienced beekeepers in my area (Richmond, Virginia) have advised that this does not work. In addition, if you try to introduce a new queen, the bees will simply kill her. Two of the most experienced from the ERBA said that they simply burn the hive!

Today, I read an article in the May, 2010 issue of Bee Culture that gave some other advice. The author, Jim Agsten, also experienced horrible luck with the ‘shake’ strategy. However, he did mention a strategy that did work for him. He would create a 3 frame Nuc with a good queen and place it on top of the afflicted colony, separated by a sheet of newspaper. The bees would slowly chew through the newspaper and join the colony above, apparently stopping their drone laying shenanigans. I guess this is because of the scent of the queen starts to make its way through the colony before they can actually get at the new colony and it gets them back on track.

Of course, there are differing opinions out there. Michael Bush doesn’t put a lot of weight into the method above. Instead, he says that the best way to deal with an issue like this is to give the hive a frame of open brood each week. They usually create a queen cell by the third week. Otherwise (when he has an outyard that he doesn’t want to visit every week because it is so far away or something similar), he just shakes the bees out in front of queenright hives and is done with it. A few weeks later, those larger hives can be split if you want to get a few more hives.

I have made this note to remind me of a strategy in case I ever deal with this issue.

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