bee biology honey bee behavior

Drone-laying queen or laying workers?

Scattered brood typical of laying workers. © Rusty Burlew.

If you have a drone-laying queen with plenty of workers, you can easily replace the queen. Laying workers are much more difficult to handle.

If you have a hive that is producing nothing but drones, one of two things is happening. Either you have a drone-laying queen or you have a bunch of laying workers. Before you can fix it, you need to decide which situation you have.

A drone-laying queen arises after a queen has run out of sperm or when a virgin queen fails to mate properly. In either case, the queen does not lay any fertilized eggs so the colony is unable to raise a new queen. In time, the colony will dwindle and die.

Laying workers arise after a hive has been queenless for about three weeks. By the end of three weeks, all the brood has emerged, so the hive no longer contains brood pheromone or queen pheromone. Those two pheromones act to suppress the ovaries of workers. When they no longer exist, the ovaries of the workers can become active and produce eggs. But since the workers cannot be fertilized, all their offspring will be drones.

Do you have a drone-laying queen or laying workers?

A drone-laying queen acts a lot like a normal queen. She lays her eggs, one per cell, in a normal brood pattern. She places the egg in the center bottom of the cell just like normal, and she may have enough pheromone to keep the workers from laying. However, the eggs mature into drones that don’t quite fit in worker comb, so the brood looks knobby and rough on the surface.

On the other hand, laying workers don’t follow the traditional pattern. Their eggs are laid in random cells and, rather than being centered in the bottom of the cell, they are often attached to the wall of the cell or just dropped in like pick-up sticks. This happens because a worker doesn’t have an abdomen long enough to reach the bottom of the cell.

Furthermore, laying workers don’t appear in ones or twos, but in hordes. You can have dozens or hundreds of laying workers, and each one doesn’t care where another one placed her eggs. As a result, you frequently will see multiple eggs per cell.

What to do next

If you have a drone-laying queen with plenty of workers remaining, you can remove the queen and introduce a new one in the standard way. You can use a sugar-plugged cage or a larger queen introduction cage, and then make sure she is released in a few days.

If you have laying workers, the solution is much more difficult. Laying worker colonies tend to be aggressive toward any queen that you try to introduce and they are very likely to kill her.

Some people claim success from combining the laying-worker hive with a strong, populous hive using the newspaper method. Other people have had this method fail miserably when one or more of the laying workers killed the queen.

Often, a frame of open worker brood from another colony. added once a week for several weeks, can slowly suppress the laying worker ovaries and make them more likely to accept a new queen. Pheromones from the open brood cause the transition.

Laying workers are often not worth the risk

In my opinion, trying to save a laying worker hive is not worth the risk. Usually, these hives have been queenless for quite some time so they are no longer populous, but they are aggressive and unpredictable. I can’t see any point in possibly ruining a perfectly good queen to save a few rogue bees.

I think it best to dismantle the laying worker hive and shake the remaining bees into the yard. The normal workers will usually find homes in another hive while the laying workers are most likely denied entry. In any case, the hive is gone and the layers, evicted from their home, will soon die. Chalk it up to experience and move on.


Scattered brood typical of laying workers. Photo by the author.
Scattered brood typical of laying workers. © Rusty Burlew.
Multiple eggs per cell are evidence of laying workers. Photo by Michael Palmer/

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  • Rusty,

    Sadly agreeing. Last summer my strong hive swarmed when I wasn’t looking and did not leave a good queen cell. By the time I checked (now there’s a lesson for the novice) I had pulled supers and figured, “That’s enough bothering them for today” when a short inspection would have shown the problem and let me introduce a frame of eggs from next door. Three weeks later, there were sealed drone cells everywhere.

    This colony killed an introduced queen and failed to raise a queen from two more frames of eggs. When I finally combined them, the combined colony failed. Heartbreaking.

    Beekeepers will read a lot about how to get rid of laying workers. Everybody’s an expert. When you pin them against a wall at a state meeting, they admit it doesn’t work.

    Here’s hoping you’ve saved some readers all that frustration. Thanks!


  • Rusty, in each case viable queen cells on frames of open brood will correct the problem. Laying workers are a bit more tedious due to the survival propagation instinct that has kicked in within the colony. Honey bee main survival instincts is to propagate, whether by queen or drone. A hopelessly queenless colony does go into survival propagation by converting workers into layers to propagate their genetic presence in an area as a final solution to their predicament.

    Curious though that the previous contributor tried frames of open brood with a laying worker that failed…of the dozen we have corrected as a mentor, never once has it failed.

    • Bill,

      You are not the only one to say this. I have heard of it going both ways, but most of the people who can make it work are quite experienced, like you. I think beekeeping intuition evolves with time and sometimes we do things (or don’t do things) that we are not even aware of. I have nothing against using queen cells and open brood to save a laying worker hive, I just hate to see a beginner lose everything to save an iffy colony.

  • Rusty: I now know what bee heart break is. This spring I went to feed my two colony’s some pollen patties and both colonies were dead. There was still honey left plus some of the bee candy I put in before wrapping them up for the winter. I guess the winter was to long and hard. It is so late now that I cannot find any new bees for sale so guess I will just have to go for a whole year with this sadness, but I still read your blog every day. We still have snow on the ground here in northern Michigan….Phil

    • Phil,

      Try to look on the positive side. You’ve got plenty of time to ready your equipment for next time, make plans, learn more. In the meantime, pay attention to your native bees because they are fascinating as well. I never get tired of learning about them.

    • Phil,

      Take out all the honey frames and frames with any pollen…leave only a couple frames of bare wax…buy a swarm lure which is really just lemongrass oil and apply several drops to the interior and entrance of the empty hive body…any swarms nearby WILL investigate your now swarm trap and very likely move in.

      • Bill,

        Question: I imagine old comb loses it’s appeal because all the volatile oils evaporate and the wax becomes dry and brittle. In your opinion, how old can comb be and still attract swarms? I have some old combs that are not highly used, in other words they are still tan and not black, and they are brittle and roughly five years old. What do you think?

        • Rusty, the old brood combs work best, and it only takes 1 or 2 in a 10 frame deep. The rest of the frames I use are also previously used frames that are propolized and hopefully have a bit of old wax still present, but not necessarily full combs. A heavily propolized hive body will also be an added plus. If the bees recognize the swarm trap as a previously occupied by honey bee cavity…chances are high that a swarm will make it a home provided swarming scouts have found it. Adding the lemongrass swarm lure is the icing on the cake!! Hope this helps everyone and please don’t forget to keep trying…

          • Thanks, Bill. I was worried that old combs might not smell right anymore. But I’ll give it a try. I’ve had good luck with bait hives in the past, but I always used newer comb.

  • I guess I got lucky, because I did the newspaper combine and it worked. It definitely taught me the importance of always knowing whether your hives are ‘queen-right’.

  • Okay, I guess I’ll offer something positive… instead of suggesting Phil move to lower Michigan 🙂

    Phil, You might also want to let people in your club know you’re looking for bees in case they might have splits available. Talk to local exterminators. They might be willing to pass along calls about honey bees. You can move them instead of them getting killed. Mentioning something about free honey bee removal on Craigslist might help, too… but make sure the people have bees instead of wasps. I’ve found a few yellow jacket colonies when going for honey bee retrieval.

    Good luck.

  • Your post was very timely. We had a hive which appeared to have survived our protracted and much colder than usual mid-Atlantic winter, but we decided to add two new hives because having one even apparently healthy hive is a gamble. The new packages were installed 3 weeks ago.

    Yesterday we inspected all 3 hives. The two new hives are doing well with 3+ frames each of nice capped worker brood as well as eggs and larva.

    By comparison the over-wintered hive had only a small amount of drone brood; however, the marked queen (new last year with a red dot) was there. If the lack of brood pattern were not enough to tell us the queen herself was not “queen-right,” her behavior was odd as well. I have usually found queens not that easy (for me at least) to find; they are either covered by a scrum of other bees or they run and hide on the bottom or back of the frame. This queen was wandering aimlessly very much in the open and she was not being tended by the other bees. They seemed to be ignoring her.

    Unfortunately nobody near us has any queens immediately available. While we could have removed this queen (do you think a year old queen would actually have run out of sperm?) and incorporated the remaining bees into one of the 2 new hives, we really didn’t want to possibly tip the balance since both are doing well. A beekeeper within an hour’s driving distance did have did have some packages of bees available. We picked one up and installed it today. However (and nothing we seem to encounter is by the book), this queen cage was different from any other we’ve had in the past. It had only a cork on one end. Ones we’ve had from our usual source have had a cork on one end and a candy plug on the other, so there was always the chance that the helpers could chew through the candy and release the queen, although that rarely happened. Most often we would end up removing the cork to release her after several days. In this case there was only one possible exit with a cork and we found the cork turned sideways in the hole and the cage was empty. Tomorrow we need to try to find the queen (who is probably not marked.)

    Two questions: if we find her, when do we remove the ineffective queen from the other hive and incorporate the remaining bees into this newest hive? If we don’t find her, do we wait and to see whether eggs and brood appear which could take weeks? And what would we do with the hive with the ineffective queen in the meantime? Or do we assume that now we essentially have two hives without good queens and maybe do need to add all these bees to the 2 new packages that are doing well.

    We will also try to get in touch with the supplier and ask him about all this as well, but we’d like other opinions (if this isn’t too convoluted to follow.) Thanks.

    • Debbe,

      I have seen one-holed cages before and I have seen corks in sideways before, but I’ve never seen a queen get past the sideways cork. Did it look like a space she could get through?

      Once you find your new queen, if you do, she should start laying right away. Since she’s already released, and assuming they didn’t kill her, I would think you would see eggs in a day or two. Then you can remove the non-performing queen and unite the two colonies with newspaper.

      A queen could run out of sperm if she wasn’t mated well or perhaps there is something else wrong with her. I hope the drones you are seeing are hers and that they don’t belong to laying workers. Look in the cells and make sure you do not see multiple eggs. I would be careful about combining your new colony with a laying worker colony. As you can see from this thread, people do it, but I would advise caution.

  • Here’s a new one for me, maybe you too:

    In some freshly laid brood yesterday I noticed in about five or six cells there were two eggs. The queen was on the same frame, so the colony isn’t queenless, yet it looks like I have a laying worker.

    I’m not sure what to think.

    • Hey Phillip,

      I would look to see exactly where the eggs are if you are curious as to the source, otherwise I wouldn’t worry about it. Some queens, especially younger ones, occasionally lay two eggs in one cell. If the eggs are in the bottom center of the cell, that is probably the case.

      Laying workers appear from time to time even in queen-right colonies. They usually don’t persist, but lay some eggs and then disappear. If some of the eggs are on the cell walls, that is probably the case.

      The third case is less likely. It is possible to have two laying queens in a hive, usually a mother and daughter. Again the situation doesn’t last and one of the queens will eventually prevail. In this case, the eggs are most likely also centered on the bottom.

      • Good info, Rusty. Thanks. The eggs were right next to each other in the bottom of the cells. I’ll take that as a good sign for now.

        I recently had to move the hive in a manner that was exceptionally disruptive, some bad beekeeping that couldn’t be helped. Everything inside the hive has been thrown asunder, frames and brood rearranged, nothing where it’s supposed to be, etc. The poor queen probably didn’t know whether she was coming or going.

        Thanks again. You’re the best.

      • I checked on the laying-worker colony again today. Although I found some older capped brood, I didn’t see much open brood — and I spotted more cells with two eggs.

        I also couldn’t find the queen, but the telltale sign of dead or failing queen: 2 queen cells full of royal jelly. The cells are positioned on the bottom of one frame where swarm cells are usually found, but I think it’s more likely they’re supercedure cells.

        For now I’m leaving it alone, but I’m thinking I might be best to cut my loses and combine the reminder of the brood and bees with my other colonies.

        • Phillip,

          I agree. It’s been too long to still be seeing double eggs . . . and the queen cells seem to verify. But you must have had a queen until recently, or who would have laid the eggs in the cell cups? You probably don’t have laying workers, just a failing queen, but soon you will have laying workers. Just my guess.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have written you before to ask about the colony I got on 23 May and wasn’t drawing comb. We were on day 33 or 34 at that point. If I understood what you replied, I should be seeing lots of new bees by now, at day 48, 11 June. But there is still no new comb, and I can’t see any capped brood. I have a Warre hive so I haven’t pried up top bars to brush bees off the comb, but there is nothing but empty cells all around the edges of the comb (5 small combs).

    Yesterday I noticed a lot of unusual activity. Many, many drones were flying around and around the hive box and then going inside. Worker bees flew in and out in a really busy fashion. It wasn’t robbing behavior, I don’t think, because the bees touched antennae when meeting on the landing board.

    I’m wondering if I might have one of the situations you have described in this post. Any thoughts on what I should look for? Or do?

    • Pennie,

      I’m sorry for not understanding, but what do you mean by “there is nothing but empty cells all around the edges of the comb.” What’s in the middle of the comb? Is it uncapped brood? Honey? I just don’t have a picture of what you’re saying. As for lots of drones, you would have had to have capped drone brood at some point in order to get drones, regardless of who laid the eggs, but I believe you said you didn’t have any capped brood. Is that correct?

  • Hi Rusty, I have better information to provide now. There is capped brood, mostly drone cells; larvae in some open cells, and eggs in some cells. Also pollen in some cells. But virtually no honey at all. While I was inspecting the combs, I also saw three new bees starting to come out of their capped cells.

    As for the cells with eggs in them, some cells had one egg in the bottom center of the cell, while others had more than one egg in the cell.

    A few cells had shriveled larvae in them. I didn’t inspect the comb after the first colony absconded earlier this year in April, so I can’t say for certain how long those larvae have been there.

    As best I can understand, if there is no honey in the comb, the bees are starving. So I have started feeding them sugar syrup again in the top feeder. The bees are still bringing pollen into the hive.

    I could not find the queen, but I don’t know if she really isn’t there or I am just too inexperienced to see her. I am recovering from a concussion and brain injury, and I find that picking out details can be challenging for me.

    One thing I have learned in the experience is that, while it is a good thing to leave the bees undisturbed so they can go about their business, it’s also good to have an idea of what things are looking like on a regular basis. There are definitely times when our human intervention to stave off a problem before it takes off.

    • Pennie,

      If you only have a small amount of brood and most of that is drones, you probably are going to lose the hive. You can try replacing the queen, but if you have laying workers, that is very difficult to do. You said you saw bees hatching . . . were they workers or drones?

  • The first picture is a frame of worker brood that is badly infected with EFB. You can see the dead larva in some cells. The second picture is correct.

    • Mike,

      No. I took that photo myself and the cells were empty save for some pollen and the scattered capped brood. I used that frame (in fact the entire rest of the hive) the following year without a hitch and that was about three years ago. I’ve never had EFB in my apiary. You’re probably seeing an artifact from the lighting I used to take the photo.

  • I have a colony with no queen. It was a split that I placed two queen cells in and waited for queen to emerge and mate. Two weeks ago I found eggs and larvae but I didn’t see queen. I noticed lots of drone brood yesterday but also two capped queen cells. I am concerned that I have a laying worker but I found no eggs and they have two queen cells.

  • If you have worker brood you are fine.

    Don’t be fooled by the queen cells made with drone larva. If you only have drone brood after a split it’s likely laying workers. They will kill any introduced queen. Use a screened shim and put this hive above a queen right hive for a few weeks, the pheromones will set them straight, after that time check for drone eggs, if they’re gone then combine them to that hive. If there’s worker brood then don’t combine them.

    • Hi. I’m a new beekeeper. This is my first year. I’m not seeing any drones in the hive. It’s the first of September. I looked in the hive today couldn’t find a queen in the hive. It was a small queen outside the hive with workers on her, it looks like she’s dying. Some brood no drone cells no drones not sure what’s happening. I think it’s Queensland but not sure. I didn’t see eggs, just not sure what to do. I’m thinking of adding a new queen just to be on the safe side.

  • I bought a package 5-6 weeks ago only to discover that I have a drone-laying queen [only one egg per cell]. Problem is, she is such a runt that –after 4 sessions [around one hour each, no smoke used] of trying to find her, I still can’t!! I can’t kill her if I can’t find her! This colony is in severe decline, with not many workers left; yet I can’t combine it or they’ll likely kill my good queen. What do I do next?

    PS–thanks for this excellent and informative web site!

    • Roger,

      You can try introducing the queen in her cage and watch for how they react to her. You can tell by watching whether they are likely to accept her or not. If the drone-layer is low on hormones, she may not be very popular.

  • Hi Rusty. Thanks for your commitment to sharing such helpful information!

    So one of our 2 hives issued a swarm here in TN on April 8. We were fortunate to hive the swarm and it’s doing great. The old hive raised a new queen, and we have seen her twice, first a skittish fast mover, today much larger and slower. But her brood pattern is still not fabulous, and there are far more drone cells than worker cells. We’re wondering if the swarm was so early that there were too few drones to get the new queen well mated. The hive is happy enough, non-aggressive, etc. Should we just keep checking on her and see if she figures things out? Or is it time to move some brood frames from one of the other hives into this one and let this queen go? There are plenty of drones available now!


    • David,

      If the colony is raising more drones than workers, I would replace the queen. The colony will never thrive with drones using up all the resources. I think you are probably correct that she was poorly mated, possibly due to the timing.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Just opened up one of my hives for an end of winter/early spring (located in New Jersey) inspection (the first in over a month) and found multiple frames of random, spotty drone brood. There’s no sign of any worker brood so I am worried that I may have laying workers or a drone laying queen. I have experienced laying workers before with the multiple, messy eggs in a single cell, and this does not look like that situation, but there isn’t a consistent laying pattern so that points away from a drone laying queen.

    It is early in the season, so I can’t tell if I’m overreacting or if this is the beginning of a bigger problem. I’m hoping you can shed some more light on my situation.

    Thank you for all that you do for this amazing community!

    • Michael,

      I hate to bear bad news, but it really does sound like laying workers, especially since you see no worker brood.

  • Thanks for the quick response, Rusty.

    So in your post you suggest just shaking out the hive because laying worker hives tend to be low population. This hive is actually quite populous, so I am reluctant to dismantle it. You suggested introducing frames of open worker brood for several weeks, how likely is that to work?

    • Michael,

      It usually works, but it can take weeks and, in the meantime, you’re weakening the hive that you take brood from. If you shake out the bees, they will find homes in one of your other hives, so it’s not really a loss of bees.

  • Hi Rusty. Thanks for your wisdom. We love listening to your advice. Thanks for recent contributions to the ABJ as well.

    We have 2 hives, one a pretty fresh package on drawn comb, which replaced a laying worker hive in late winter. The other came busting out of the winter, but now seems to be a laying worker hive or drone laying queen. But we haven’t seen the queen in about 6 weeks. We speculate that laying workers may have drifted over after we shook them out of the first hive. There is a lot of drone brood and nothing else. Have not seen the queen in several weeks of inspections. Just a month ago we had 10 frames of worker brood in 2 8 frame deeps. So we have good worker population in both deeps but the queen may have failed or was killed by aliens. But someone is laying drone comb in significant amounts…

    We ordered a hybrid Russian queen and are thinking we will strap up the double deep, replace it with a single deep of stored frames, put the new queen in a push in cage on an outer frame possibly surrounded by newspaper sprayed down with lemongrass oil. We would take the old deeps a distance away to shake out. The thinking is that foragers will return, find a new queen, get used to her and all will be well. We would try to allow for several days of pleasant cocktail conversation before letting her out.

    Are we on the right track? How far away would you advise a shake out if we want foragers to return but not laying workers?

    Dave and Nancy in TN

    • David,

      I don’t trust laying workers, so I try to avoid messing with them. I don’t believe the rumors that they can’t fly, either. Maybe some of them can’t, but I’m sure some can. Once you get a laying worker hive, you have different bees beginning to lay all the time; some are just more developed than others. If the laying workers decide they already have enough queens or pheromones in the hive, they may well never accept the new queen. I don’t know that there is a distance that will do what you want it to do.

      • Dear Rusty: On the very PLUS side, we got a swarm call this afternoon and were able to retrieve it and hive it with no stings or other drama. So regardless of what happens with the strange hive’s behavior, we are feeling optimistic about the 2 new colonies! We’ll keep you posted on this particular adventure.

        Dave and Nancy

  • Thanks a lot Rusty for the good advice, it has equipt me about these two confusing situations ….am humbled may the lord bless you and hope for more to learn ………..thanks

    Alex from Makerere University Uganda

  • Hi Rusty…I did a series of experiments this year with 10 commercially produced packages to see what the queen viability was. In the 1st month 4 packages lost/aborted their queens after brood nests were establushed. These are horrible statistics and extremely wide spread in my area.

    As a secondary experiment, we let 2 go into an advanced laying worker status. This was very easily and quickly corrected by moving a frame of brood WITH ripe queen cells. Both laying worker colonies now have proper laying queens in both and are improving daily.

    It’s my recommendation to everyone to keep at least 2 colonies or more to make sure to have the resources to correct potential issues in the apiary. Unfortunately, packaged bees are not a good viable option for beginners. Packaged bees are notorious for problems out of the gate and many, if not most, will have queen issues within the first season.

    I now get several calls and emails a week from folks who inspect their colonies that have little to no brood and no queens. Queen events are a scourge plaguing American beekeeping. It brings me nothing but sadness to realize folks are literally throwing their money into beekeeping and in many/most cases lose their bees every year. It’s very disconcerting to know there are ZERO guarantees for the bees we buy once those bees are picked up and taken home. And in many cases, those who sell these substandard bees refuse to give any recourse or refund.

    Glad to read on the success of your apiary…

    Best of 2018 to all!!!!

    Bill Castro

    • BTW…folks should NEVER waste their time and money trying to correct a laying worker with a laying queen in a cage…they will assassinate that queen immediately upon her release!!!!

    • Hi Bill,

      It’s good to hear from you.

      I sometimes forget to emphasize how bad the package bee situation can be. I think I forget because I haven’t purchased a package in many, many years. I avoid it like the plague because they seldom work out very well. Plus, I like to use my locally adapted bees. Interesting experiments you’re doing, but I’m not surprised by the poor results.

      It’s especially sad for beginners because they study really hard, and then when things go bad, they blame themselves when, in fact, it may have been a bad queen or a bad package.

  • Rusty,

    On the first warm day in April, an inspection of a 4 medium box hive revealed no eggs or brood but the queen was there. I closed the hive and waited a week or so and inspected again. Still no eggs or brood but the queen could not be found. Thinking the hive may have gone queenless, several frames of eggs and brood were placed in the hive. After two weeks, still no eggs or brood. There were several supersedure cells on the upper third of a few frames. However, they were empty. I spoke to Bill Castro by email about requeening. He said to be sure there were no cells with multiple eggs to rule out laying workers. So I went back and slowly scanned every frame for cells with multiple eggs. I did not find any but I did find the original queen! She seemed to be lethargic but she was receiving attention from the group of bees surrounding her. Not sure if I should eliminate the queen and requeen; eliminate the queen and add more frames of eggs and brood; or, something else. What that would be I don’t know. The hive from which I took eggs and brood is very strong.

    Carl Miller

  • Hi Rusty.
    I do believe our one hive is a drone laying queen hive… Tons of drone brood and the queen is still present. I am thinking most of this hives population migrated to our second hive? Is that a possibility?? And the hive with the drone laying queen appears to have about 2 frames of bees left… Is it possible to move a frame from the healthy hive containing 1-3 day old eggs into the suffering hive?? Will they then produce a new queen? Many thanks for any advice in advance!!! April from PA

    • April,

      Yes, the drone layer may not have sufficient pheromones to hold the workers. Instead, they went to the neighboring hive, which is very common. You can try to add a frame of brood and see if they can raise a new queen. You will know fairly soon whether they are trying or not.

      • This year I ordered two packages. Almost all the bees went to one hive. The hive that they went to turned out to have a drone-laying queen. I guess maybe a queen can have strong pheromones and still be useless.

  • Many thanks Rusty!

    One more thing… We are seeing what looks like emergency queen cells on a couple of frames… But the queen is still present. Do we need to remove the drone laying queen before we put in a frame of brood from hive A??? And if we remove a frame of brood from the healthy hive which frame should we remove??? This has been ever so helpful! Thank you!! 🙂

    • April,

      If I could find her, I would remove the drone-laying queen before adding brood. You want to add a frame that contains eggs and very young larvae.

  • She is marked Rusty so that will be no problem. (Do I have to destroy her?!?) Thanks again for all of your help! Feel very blessed to have found your site! 🙂

    • April,

      If she’s a drone layer and the bees are already building supersedure cells, you can just leave her in there. If the bees are trying to supersede her, they obviously know she needs to be replaced. Do put a frame of brood in there soon, however, because you don’t want laying workers to develop.

  • I see a TON of drone brood…. And what appear to be about 4 emergency cells on 2 different frames. Nothing near the bottom of frames tho… Just hoping to save hive B. So many migrated to hive A that we’re about to add a second box… The lower deep is almost full if bees now… I think they need more room?? So would this be the time then to add a queen excluded and a second super? Thanks again… So helpful!

    • April,

      Hive A won’t be quite so crowded after you take a frame of two of brood from it. But yes, you can still add a second brood box. Or, if you want, you can add a queen excluder above the existing brood box and put a honey super above that. These are just suggestions; there are many ways you can accommodate the growing colony.

  • I have one or the other of this situation. I did an inspection today, and it was completely full of drone, drone brood all over the place, with very little worker brood. One thing I want to ask: Do the bees know from the beginning whether it’s drone or not, so that drone will all have larger cells, or can the larvae I’m seeing now be drone that just hasn’t gotten big enough yet for the workers to enlarge the cells?

    But mainly, I need to go back in and figure out which of the situations it is. I need to look for a queen and get a magifying glass or set of younger eyes to look for eggs. There SO MUCH drone brood, that I couldn’t tell if it’s in a haphazard pattern or not. I only have one other hive, a nuc hive that barely made it through winter, so is slow building up; they currently only have about 3 frames of bees, but have a nice pattern going. If I find that the situation is laying workers, and I shake all of the bees out on the ground and reduce the entrance on the nuc hive, and maybe add another box, will the nuc be able to keep out the laying workers, or am I likely to just end up killing off both hives?

    • Tim,

      Unlike queens, laying workers will lay eggs in any size cell. The resulting drones are often undersized.

      No, a queenright hive will not get overrun by laying workers from another hive. Even if they enter, the queen’s pheromones and the open brood pheromone suppresses worker ovaries.

  • Rusty, can you please give me some advice? The drone-layer’s colony that I mentioned above–I gave them a frame with all stages of worker brood so that they would raise a better queen. If I understand correctly, this means that they will have open brood pheromone for eight days, and they will have the opportunity to select a larva for raising a queen for six days (from one-day-old egg to three-day-old larva). Is that correct?

    I did not remove the old queen. Are they likely to raise a new one anyway, or should I try to buy a local queen? (She is apparently not laying at all anymore. I only found one egg in all the frames I looked at, and it was in a pollen cell. Yikes! Somebody went too long without smelling worker larvae.)

    I hate package queens!

    • Sean,

      I would have removed the old queen. She may still have enough pheromone to keep the bees from raising a queen.

  • Thank you for the great info.

    I have a laying worker situation. Should I shake out the frames from the failed hive and then place or exchange the shaken out frames into a queen right hive and replace the failed hive with frames from the queen right hive to attempt another spilt?

    • Michael,

      You can shake out the frames if you want. Some of those bees may be accepted into another hive. When you have enough bees in another hive for a successful split, then you can try the split. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to save the laying workers; they can be more trouble than they’re worth.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I installed a package on April 17 but, over time, was not seeing capped brood and thought I might be queenless or had poorly mated queen. I installed a frame of eggs and open brood from my other strong package colony on day 19 to see if they would draw queen cells on the frame but they did not so they must think they are queenright. On day 30 I inspected again and see lots of larvae as well as eggs. I do not see any cells with multiple eggs, however, but I now see capped drone brood on various frames as well but again no capped worker brood. Colony size is decreasing and I am wondering if I should do a newspaper combine with my strong remaining colony. I have photos but wondering when do I make the decision as to combine or not or how can I confirm that it is a drone layer and time to give up?


  • Hi Rusty,

    I recently installed a package of bees. At my one week inspection I did not find the queen. You recommended I wait another two days (9 days after inspection) to re-inspect. On re-inspection I did not find the queen, eggs, or larva. Thanks to your advice I immediately contacted the supplier and got a new queen. I installed the new queen the following day and re-inspected on day 13 of the new hive. In the hive I found the queen alive and well. I took out a piece of hand-sized burr comb from a bent foundation and noticed multiple eggs in each cell (up to 6 per cell), I had laying workers. Since I had already closed the hive up I didn’t want to disturb it again that day.

    I waited another 6 days to re-inspect (expecting the worst). However, I found the queen still alive and well with eggs, brood, and bees on 2-3 frames. I also found another frame with lots of capped drone brood and many cells with multiple laying worker eggs…

    My instinct is to just wait it out and let the hive ‘right’ itself. My more impulsive side wants to shake out all the bees except the ones on the 2-3 frames around the queen… Do you have any advice?


    • If your new queen is laying normally and the workers are raising her brood, you shouldn’t have a problem. The open-brood pheromone will gradually suppress laying worker ovaries, and things should go back to normal. I’m not entirely convinced you had laying workers, however. If you did, they would have killed the queen and destroyed the new eggs. Many new queens lay multiple eggs in one cell, which could have happened, or you may have had a drone laying queen.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I inspected the hive today and found a lot of the drone brood cells from last week were empty. (I had been noticing large still-soft larva on the landing board every morning this week). I also noticed more worker capped brood this week. I think the queen is starting to rule with an iron fist. Even though the hive seems to be moving in the right direction I did find some eggs in pollen cells and some double egg cells. I would love to send you a picture of the burr comb with so many eggs in it. I added a frame of mostly small larva and some capped brood from my stronger hive today to help increase the pheromone of the open larva. Was this a good decision?

    I am hopeful and excited that this is hive heading in the right direction. I can’t believe how complicated laying workers can get.

    Best Regard,