How do I know if my hive is queenless?

Unless you killed the queen yourself, or saw her die, you can’t be certain the bees are queenless unless you test them.  Here is the simple queenlessness test.

But before you  test the bees – always check she’s not in the supers! Even with an excluder in place, it’s surprising how often the queen can find her way upstairs and build a lovely brood nest in the honey.

Also consider just how long it takes for the bees to make a new queen cell from scratch, for the virgin to emerge, to mature, to get mated and to start laying. Remember, the weather has a lot to do with how quickly she can get mated.

Look at the diagram below and use it to manage your expectations. Don’t panic till week 6.

Queen Rearing Timeline
Queen rearing timeline

If you still think your bees have no queen – here is the test for queenlessness:

Queenlessness test
  • Make absolutely sure there aren’t already queencells tucked away somewhere;
  • Add in a frame of young larvae (<3 days old) from a different colony.  Nurse bees will sometimes eat the eggs of other bees but will happily draw emergency cells from small larvae;
  • Come back in a week;
  • If there are no queen cells they either have a queen or they think they have a queen, there is a difference; they could have a drone laying queen or laying workers (see below);
  • If there are queen cells – they are queenless;
  • Remove the queen cells and the colony is now hopelessly queenless and should be ready to accept a new queen using the method of your choice.
Drone laying queens

A drone laying queen is a queen that didn’t mate properly and her spermatheca has run dry. That’ s the little vessel inside herself where she stores the sperm from when she got mated – each time she lays a worker egg, she fertilises it with sperm from the spermatheca.  If it runs dry she can only lay unfertilised eggs and these, of course, become drones. Because she lays drone eggs into worker cells the drone larvae rapidly outgrow the cells and  the result is horribly distorted comb.

If you have a drone laying queen you will have to find her and kill her.  Once you’ve done that you can introduce a new queen.

Laying workers

When a hive has been queenless for a while, the broodless state causes one, or some, of the younger workers to start laying eggs. Of course these workers have never mated so can only lay unfertilised eggs which will hatch as drones.

The egg laying pattern of laying workers tends to be crappy and there may be several eggs scattered in each cell.

The best thing to do in this case is to add in one or two frames of young larvae. This tends to rewind the situation, the laying workers are ‘reset’ and  you can introduce a new queen.

Click here for how to introduce a new queen

Click here for how to introduce a queen using the matchbox method

Click here for how to introduce a queen using the postal cage

Click here for how to introduce a queen to an Apidea

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