Drone Laying Workers and Queens – Throwing Bees Away!

Our bees have been up to no good yet again. We seem to have loads of hives and colonies, but very few queens.

Argoed Farm – Happy and Healthy

On a positive note, the hive at Argoed Farm has re-queened successfully. It now has a new laying queen and plenty in the way of eggs, young brood, honey and pollen stores so all is looking good. It isn’t a huge colony but they should build up well now.

Draper Apiary – Drone Laying Queen

The colonies in our other out apiary aren’t looking so good though. The one that was doing really well and had been split earlier in the year after building up quickly has been showing signs of swarming again. We have removed the queen and are now just waiting for another new queen to emerge and hopefully mate. This will put them back a month or so which is a shame, but it’s a strong colony at the moment with plenty of bees and plenty of stores, so assuming she energes and manages to mate successfully and start laying they should be OK.

However, the colony next to it that we have been expecting to have re-queened by now seems to have a drone laying queen though so it looks as though she hasn’t successfully mated. drone-laying queen arises after a queen has run out of sperm or when a virgin queen fails to mate properly. It looks as though the latter might be the case in this colony, and if the same happens to the other hive in this apiary then we are in trouble. There isn’t any reason why they shouldn’t be able to mate successfully here though so maybe we’ve just been unlucky. 

A drone-laying queen acts like a normal queen, laying individual eggs in cells in a normal brood pattern. However, the eggs mature into drones that don’t quite fit in worker comb, so the brood looks knobby and rough on the surface. I should have taken a photo of it, but as soon as I saw the sealed brood it just didn’t look right. I wasn’t really sure what to do though as I wasn’t quite expecting to see this so we shall leave them another week just in case the new queen here hasn’t quite got going properly. If this is still the case next week our only course of action here will be to find and kill the drone laying queen  and introduce a new laying queen to the colony.

Ar y Gors Apiary – Drone Laying Workers

We’ve had all sorts of things going on in our home apiary. Morgans Colony has finally re-queened and she has started laying eggs but when we looked in on Sunday we still couldn’t see the queen and there wasn’t any sealed brood. Having seen eggs in here a week ago we were expecting a little more activity in the way of brood but hopefully they’ll get going properly soon and will build up well.

The colony that came from a bought nuc earlier in the year was very small and taking a while to build up, but it still seems to have swarmed. Last week when we looked there were lots of queen cells and no sign of a queen. We had no choice but to leave them to it so we have lost a queen, half the bees and have yet another colony that is trying to re-queen.

The nuc box that contained a swarm I caught after seeing it emerge from Morgan’s hive though seems to have a drone laying worker. The fact that it came from a caught swarm would suggest that a queen should be present, but the swarm emerged from a hive that was in the process of re-queening, so the queen would have been a virigin queen at best and it looks as though something has happened to her.

Drone laying workers arise after a hive has been queenless for about three weeks. With no queen for 3 weeks the hive no longer contains brood pheromone or queen pheromone. These two pheromones suppress the ovaries of worker bees but when they no longer exist, the ovaries of the workers can become active and produce eggs. The trouble is, workers can’t mate and be fertilised and therefore any eggs that are laid will only produce drones. Laying workers lay eggs in random cells and, rather than being centered in the bottom of the cell, they are often attached to the wall of the cell because a worker doesn’t have an abdomen long enough to reach the bottom of the cell. They also lay lots of eggs in each cell. This is due to the fact that the lack of ovary suppressing pheremones means that lots of workers suddenly start producing and laying eggs meaning that there can be loads of laying workers in a hive. They don’t seem to care if other workers have already laid and egg in a cell before laying theirs so cells often contain multiple eggs.

Laying worker eggs

Laying worker eggs

Drone Laying Workers are a little more difficult to deal with. Colonies with laying workers tend to be aggressive toward any queen that you try to introduce and are very likely to kill her. It should be possible to combine the laying worker colony with a stronger colony which is what we thought of doing at first, but often this method fails because the laying workers kill the queen in the colony you try to merge it with. We certainly didn’t want this to happen. We’d rather lose the entire colony with the laying workers than lose the new queen in Morgan’s colony, especially as the colony with the worker colony was really small anyway.

So what else could we do?

It seems as though the only thing people suggest it to dismantle the hive and simply empty the bees out into the apiary. Without a hive to go to it is thought that most of the bees will drift into other hives while the laying workers won’t be accepted into the other hives and will simply die out. It seems a little mad just emptying bees out into the grass but as seems to be the case with everything this year we really had little choice. Of course, they haven’t quite done what they should have done and rather than heading off to other hives it seems as though many of the bees have just clustered on the blocks that the nuc box was stood on. It has started to rain out there now though so maybe that will encourage them to find shelter in an alternative hive.



The other colony that we have from a caught swarm in which there was definitely a queen because we saw her also seems to be queenless and is now very weak and on its way out. The final hive in this apiary contains a split from a swarming nuic so should be re-queening. We aren;t expecting this hive to have a laying queen for a few weeks yet so we left it alone, there were bees coming and going from it though and those returning to the hive seemed to be taking lots of pollen in which is always a good sign.

So, we had 8 colonies. One of which was a ‘normal’, healthy colony. Another had recently re-queened and is hopefully on it’s way to becoming a ‘normal’ healthy colony, although we have yet to actually see the queen. Three of them are hopefully in the process of re-queening. One has a drone-laying queen. One had drone-laying workers so has been torn down and the final colony is simply on it’s way out having never got going after being caught as a swarm.

Other people are having to harvest their honey early simply because they don’t have enough equipment to give the bees enough supers to stroes the honey in. We on the other hand are struggling just to get queen-right colonies, we haven’t even started thinking about honey!




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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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