bee biology

Why save a laying-worker colony?

Scattered brood typical of laying workers. © Rusty Burlew.

This is not a post on how to save a laying-worker colony. I have beat the subject to death in prior posts, and the comments always devolve into arguments on the best way to tame those drone-laying demons. Each beekeeper’s personal technique is the right way and you’re ignorant if you don’t believe it.

While there are probably hundreds of ways to save a laying-worker colony, there doesn’t seem to be any clear winner. Lots of people have succeeded and lots have failed. Many beekeepers, myself included, succeed with some colonies and fail with others.

However, my inbox during the past two weeks has been swamped with newbees wanting to know what to do with their laying workers, so here is this year’s two cents. As I’ve said before, maintaining this website has changed my outlook on a number of issues, and laying worker remediation is one of them. I used to think you should try no matter what; now I think you should get over it.

What is a laying worker?

For those of you unfamiliar with the problem, laying workers arise in a colony after an extended period of queenlessness. After about two weeks without a queen or without any open brood, a certain percentage of the workers will begin to lay eggs.

Research has shown that in a normal colony, pheromones produced by open worker brood and by the queen herself keep the ovaries of the workers suppressed. But once the pheromones become weak or non-existent, the ovaries begin to develop in perhaps 10-12% of the workers.

Because workers are incapable of mating, all their eggs are haploid, meaning they have one set of chromosomes and develop into drones. Without any new workers or any way to raise a queen, the colony is doomed.

However, these laying workers go through physiological changes that give them some queen-like characteristics, including enough pheromones that the colony “believes” it has a queen. Because of this, any introduced queen is unwelcome and usually destroyed.

How can you detect laying workers?

A laying-worker colony is easy to spot. Since you have many bees laying eggs, they tend to share the cells and reuse them. Some cells may contain two or three eggs, or in some cases, even a dozen. And instead of standing upright in the center of cell they may be on the walls of the cell or even on the rim. Workers don’t have the long, sleek abdomen needed to place the eggs precisely as a queen would.

Then too, you may notice many capped drone cells randomly distributed on the combs. You will see no worker brood, usually no queen, and often a kind of nervous energy among the workers, who seem in no way relaxed.

The techniques of laying-worker remediation

Techniques for remediation are designed to reverse ovary development. This is done by adding caged queens that are protected from workers or adding open brood, or both.These additions boost the pheromone levels within the hive. If pheromone levels remain elevated for several weeks, the worker ovaries will eventually begin to shrink. After enough time passes, the colony will be receptive to a new queen.

As I mentioned, there are many ways to go about introducing a new queen and adding open brood pheromone. Every beekeeper has developed a “foolproof” way to do this—you need only ask to get all the details.

Why I no longer recommend it

Let me back up a moment and say that if you have plenty of resources (queens and brood) and lots of time and patience, by all means go for it. You can learn a lot by messing with these colonies, so if that’s your goal, just do it.

However, a successful save can require repeated introductions of open brood. If you are in a situation with a limited number of colonies, or a limited amount of brood, you may want to reconsider.

Each time you steal brood, you are weakening the donor colony. If you have lots of colonies, you can take from several. Or if your other colonies are large, you can probably get away with this. But if you are a beginner with just two colonies, I would be wary about weakening one in order to save a batch of laying workers.

What  are you actually saving?

When you think about it, spring and summer workers live, on average, about four to six weeks. For argument, let’s say five weeks. If you catch the laying workers just as they begin to drop eggs, they have been without open brood for two weeks already, which means the last workers are emerging now. (Assuming the brood cycle is three weeks, after two weeks, you have one more week of emerging bees.)

If we add that one week of still-to-emerge bees onto our five-week lifespan, we have six weeks of worker bees remaining. If it takes three weeks to revert their ovaries, you will have only half that remaining, and they will be fairly old. These are rough numbers, of course, but you get the idea.

If you didn’t discover the laying workers until they’d been laying for two weeks, you only have two weeks of lifespan remaining on those bees you are trying so hard to save. If you start trying to save them now, virtually none will be left by the time you are done. You have to ask yourself if removing all that brood from your other colonies is worth it.

Appearances are deceiving

If you start adding brood, the colony will get much larger, of course. But most of the bees you see will be bees you added in the form of brood, not necessarily bees from the laying worker hive. What you actually achieve is a slow split.

I contend that it’s a better use of resources to use that brood for a regular split, and either add a queen or let them raise one. Instead of making a split gradually over the course of three or four weeks, just make it all at once. You are still using the same amount of brood, but you’re not risking a new queen, and you’re not continually messing with the nest structure of your good colony.

Shaking out the bees

In the “old days” we just dismantled the laying worker hive and shook the frames in the grass at edge of the bee yard. This results in most of the bees finding a home in one of the other colonies. The laying workers are usually denied entrance (due to their high pheromone levels) or if they are allowed in, any eggs they lay are carted out and dumped.

This isn’t such a bad outcome and, as far as I know, this method is still practiced by most sizable apiaries. The laying worker colony is considered a loss, so you save what you can and move on.

While I understand the urge to save every last bee, I think it’s more important to concentrate on the healthy colonies you have remaining. Later, when you have more experience and more colonies, you can fuss with laying workers until the cows come home.

Honey Bee Suite

Related Posts:

What does a laying worker hive look like?

How to fix a laying worker hive

Multiple eggs in a laying-worker colony.

Multiple eggs are a sign of laying workers. BeeBase photo.




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  • Hi,

    Just found your site and love it. I’m a 1st year beekeeper and yes, one of the 2 packages I loaded have laying worker(s). Wanted to unite them, but it was suggested I first try introducing a queen cell. After reading a number of posts going back a couple years, the fact there was NEVER any brood in the colony has me concerned the workers will just kill the virgin queen soon as she emerges.

    What sort of bothers me is the “master” beekeeper who suggested this in my club was told (by me) there was no brood, no eggs, larva, never was. So either the queen died before laying anything, or was killed when I released her after 5 days (which they also recommended and I now regret..should have let them take as long as they wanted to do so).

    Anyhoo…all this to ask if there’s a snowball’s chance in H, E, double-hockey sticks for this queen to make it 10 seconds out of her cell? If not I will shake those bees out and give the frames of honey they produced to the other colony that does have a laying queen. I’m afraid to try and unite them in case the queenless workers decide to kill the good queen I do have!

    Brenda in Virginia

    • Brenda,

      When did you hive the packages? Laying workers take at least a couple of weeks to start laying, so I was wondering if they were in the package for a long time or if you hived them a while back.

      When in comes to laying workers, some people have better luck using a queen cell than a queen, but it’s not always the answer. A lot has to do with how many workers are laying. The more that are laying, the higher the pheromone concentration, the lower the probability of success. No matter what they try to lead you to believe, what works in one case may not work in another.

      You could try putting the queen cell in a cage (like a roller cage, if you have one, or a push-in cage) and let her emerge inside the cage (or you can make a cage out of #8 hardware cloth). They will ball the cage if they don’t like her, so that will give you an idea before they kill her. Some say queen cells work well, some say they don’t work at all. Like I said, every colony is different.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Can you just add with newspaper the laying worker colony to a normal one? “On top are my thoughts.”

    Then in 3 or 4 weeks do a split? Seems you would have the same end result referring to your “slow split” comment. Any chance the laying worker colony will mess up the good one? IMO that seems to be less messing around, 2 visits, and the first one would not disturb the original good colonies brood nest.

    • Keith,

      Like I said, there are lots of ways and they all work sometimes. You can put the laying workers on top of your other hive, but you run the risk of the laying workers killing your one good queen. You can use a double-screen board for a couple weeks and see if that helps.

  • Thanks for the quick response Rusty! I received the packages on Easter Sunday morning April 16th. (interesting day for them to be delivered from GA to S.W. Virginia). They were loaded immediately when I got them home around 10:30am.

    The queen in this package was not released after 5 days, so upon the advice of the club, I released her. Went in again 1 week later (4/23) and no eggs/larva and couldn’t spot the (unmarked queen) anywhere, but did manage to see the one in other hive. So I closed it up and let them to their business.

    The following week on the 30th I found eggs and larva all over in the queen rite hive. Again…closed it up/left them alone. In the 2nd hive couldn’t find the queen, and there was no egg/larva anywhere. Looked over each frame 3 times and nothing.

    The following week on May 5th There was tons of capped brood in the queen rite hive, eggs/larva too, but no queen to be found in the other. Upon inspection noticed a number of cells with multiple eggs/laying workers?

    So, I got a queen cell this Saturday (5/6). Was in one of those little plastic cages. Stuck it where the bees cluster most. They basically ignored it which surprised me since I figured they’d be all over it. She was supposed to emerge today. Not sure how long I should wait to check for any eggs because she has to do her mating flights and I’m sure that will take a number of days after she emerges…if she lives.

    Sorry this is so long, but I am first year keeper…waited until kids were grown, done with college and gone before starting so I’d have time. Work from home (middle aged IBM lady 🙂 so I have the time and am all about trying to get it right and not overdo it. I mean, they are bees. They know what to do without my guidance no doubt. But in this situation they’ve been kidnapped from their home, sent hundreds of miles away with a foreign queen, then left queenless, and now a queen cell out of nowhere appears. I thought of trying to merge, but what I”m seeing online says it’s not safe if they’ve been queenless this long. Especially since the queen rite colony is also new and still rather weak. If they killed that queen, it would truly stink!

    Brenda in Virginia

  • After reading all the comments, it seems there is no answer. Bees have a mind of their own and survival of each colony depends on them not the beekeeper. What is the sure fire answer? Or is there one?

    • Linda,

      I think the sure-fire answer it to just shake out the colony and be done with it. We beekeepers are no match for pheromones.

  • Hi Rusty, you sound like us after being around our kids and grand-kids for a few days on a short vacation (because that is all we can take ’em for anymore). We sincerely appreciate your undying devotion to your audience and your blog. Your frustration shows through and at some point you just have to know when to let ignorance be its own reward. In the mean time we always enjoy your humor, candor and informative posts. Be assured this too will pass. Be blessed! I’m allowed to start a sentence w/a prep. phrase just bc.Lol

  • A number of species of bumbles rely on workers to lay some or all of the drone eggs. Do any Apis species (e.g. not A. mellifera) have drone laying workers as part of their normal reproductive cycle?

    • Glen,

      I don’t know that any depend on it, but I’ve read that there are always some laying workers in Apis colonies, and that some of their eggs manage to fully develop into viable drones. Somehow, they just slip under the radar.

      Also interesting, if off point, is that Apis mellifera capensis workers (the cape honey bee) can lay diploid (female) eggs due to a process called thelytoky, a form of parthenogenesis. Apparently this ability is due to a double recessive allele, so it doesn’t happen frequently, but often enough to be interesting.

  • Hello again,

    I replied to a post last year about how my newly-purchased mated queen destined for a split was killed by hive beetle larvae while still in the queen cage. The topic was about combining weak colonies or trying to over winter them. I chose to over winter the weak colony because of the trials and tribulations I faced in the spring. Here in Texas another mild winter ended again with no losses. The colony is doing great, filling out 15 of 19 deep frames.

    I write in reference of this colony because after the tragic death of the purchased queen, I attempted to add brood in hopes a new queen created by the bees for the bees would would be crowned. That did not happen. The brood was tended to but no queens were created. Instead I had lots of cells with multiple eggs. I had invested my time, money, and emotions. I had to make the split successful.

    Ignorant and stubborn, I reviewed suggestions and remedies from books, blogs, and YouTube. None of the suggestions were to let the colony go. The calculated thought process was never addressed. The numbers you provided in this post, never mentioned. A common theme was everyone has an opinion on what to do, so just pick one you want and do that. In hindsight sight, with your numbers in consideration, I would have let the 4 deep frames go and try again another day.

    But that’s not what I did. I burnt the candle at both ends. I introduced a frame of brood with the queen and nurse bees on it. The double deep colony whom I stole the queen and brood from made an extraordinary queen. I am grateful they were able to do so. I regret that I risked that colony and its well being for 4 deep frames, because after all without a laying queen I don’t consider it a true colony. Even though the colony is strong today, I feel I would not make the same decision. Thank you for your insight.


  • I’ve heard before that bees will collect syrup that is feed out of hive faster. Like in a bucket or whatever. The given reason was because the bees see that syrup fed in the hive is already theirs therefore they can use it at their leisure so are less inclined to put it in cells. This is opposed to out of hive feed where they need to move fast so that they can collect as much of it as possible. Is this true at all?

    • Shelly,

      I think it’s more complicated than that. If it’s rainy or overcast, the bees are likely to put away syrup from inside the hive. If it’s clear and sunny (and warm enough) they like to collect from flowers. If there’s a nectar dearth, they will take in syrup from the outside or the inside. I never believe statements that say bees “always” do this or that. It is more dependent on local conditions and also the genetics of your particular colony.

      Many people don’t like open feeding (feeding outside the colony) because it can accelerate disease transmission, it can cause fighting, and it can attract predators to the area. I almost never feed outside the hive, but some people like it. As for the bees thinking the syrup is already theirs, how does anyone know what bees are thinking? I would just feed them in a way that makes sense to you and ignore the busy-bodies.

  • Rusty -Thank you for this clear explanation of what happens with laying workers. I lost 2 hives in 1 year to this problem. In one of the hives I did the very time consuming “shake ” method, introducing a new $40 queen when the hive was reassembled. They killed her and eventually the hive died. I like your philosophy – time is too short to spend going to such efforts to save a hive that has succumbed to laying workers, at least for me. However, I am planning to check my hives more frequently than in the past, and learn how to raise my own queens since I am quite sure this may happen again! Thank you for all your hard work providing great information 24/7 – your site is there for me when I can’t reach one of my beekeeping mentors and I always find the help I need.

  • Rusty, I have this very thing happening. My hive went queenless for a couple of weeks and by the time I was able to get a new queen it was too late and the hive killed the new queen. What I ended up doing was shaking all of the bees into one box and then I moved that box to the other side of the yard. I then immediately put in a nuc in the location of the failed hive. After a couple of days I put the box with the laying workers on top of the nuc and separated them with a screened inner cover. This should provide the open brood pheromone but it will take a couple of weeks to stop the laying workers. I have to agree with the premise of your post though because in the end what have I really achieved? I would probably been better off and further ahead just shaking them out and doing away with the house bees.

  • I don’t bother with those colonies anymore. If I see a true laying worker colony (maybe a few since is started in 2011), I just break them up. What I’ve seen much more often is a drone laying queen. If it’s a decent-sized colony I’ll give them eggs to raise a new queen. But laying workers? Fugetaboitit!

  • Thanks for the post. I have been learning to be a beekeeper for 6 years now and have tried three times to save a laying worker colony with no success. In fact I have killed off another colony by making it weak in the process. In the future it will be shaking them to the bee yard.



  • Oh, I am with you. I don’t bother anymore to correct a laying worker colony, and that is liberating!

    • Tammy,

      I’m glad to know so many people see the light. I agree: it is liberating.

  • I like your laying worker math, it makes sense. The advice is often that if a beekeeper had just a few hives in their backyard, they can take the trouble to save a laying worker hive. It’s not mentioned at what cost to their other hives. The real trick is to make timely inspections, especially if you are waiting on queens getting mated.

    A beekeeper I know had all the workers die off in his laying worker hive and was left with nothing but drones. He invited his nieces and nephews over to the drone petting zoo!

  • I wonder if you can amplify the effect of adding one frame of open brood by removing all of the other frames in the hive. Maybe shake out the drone layer hive and distribute the honey and pollen to other hives, then set a nuc box in its place with just one frame of open brood, some foundation, and a feeder jar. If the laying worker bees raise a new queen with the open brood then they can save themselves without risking a lot of resources. Otherwise, the doomed bees will at least draw some comb out for you that you can use in another hive.

    • Keith,

      Even if successful, you are still doing a lot of work to save a few bees that won’t live very long even in an ideal situation. For me, it isn’t worth it, but if that’s your thing, give it a try.

  • I love your website and especially the blogs and stories, thank you! I’ve had a question for a while now and wondered if you might be able to answer this: If 2 or more eggs are laid in a single cell, what happens to the egg that doesn’t make it to the larva stage? Because we know there’s only one bee that will develop in the cell. Does the extra egg just die off, or does the larva eat it, or do the worker bees remove it? Do you know? Thank you for your time!

    • Denise,

      In laying worker hives where many eggs per cell are laid, you will often see more than one larvae develop. There’s a photo here. In a regular hive where a young queen has laid multiple eggs, the workers will remove it. I’ve read that they eat these as a way to conserve protein in the colony. It’s one of the exceptions to the “bees are vegetarian” rule.

  • I have a laying worker hive and have been reading and reading and watching youtube videos to figure out what to do. After summarizing all the advice given, it seems that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and most of the methods are labor intensive. As a 2nd-year beekeeper, I felt hopelessly confused and defeated. So glad to read your blog post saying to just get over it!

    I have two other hives I started from nucs this year – one strong and the other okay (it swarmed in early summer). I can focus my efforts on making sure they are strong enough to make through this next winter.

    I am still a bit confused about what to do with the frames from the laying worker hive, as the current workers die off and only drones emerge. Do I add those frames into the two other hives? Or as you suggest make a split with them (something I have never done and would have to learn how to do)? Or do I just abandon them and harvest the honey?

    Thank you for your informative blog!

    • Sharon,

      I would just abandon. The drones will soon be unwelcome and the workers are getting old.

      • I guess I was thinking I might replace on frames that are not built out in the other hives with the ones that are from the worker laying hive and save the other hives a bit of energy.

        I read somewhere they would clean out the cells and remove the drone larvae. I assume they would then use the built out frames then themselves.

        Thanks Rusty!

        • Oh sure, you can do that. Giving your other hive drawn out comb will definitely be a benefit to them. And yes, they will clean things up.

  • I have been waiting for my laying workers to die for five or six weeks. They are eight weeks old and still alive (though they have stopped laying, I assume because there are no workers bringing in pollen for them to produce eggs with and anyway they are incredibly old). I wrote to you in a more recent thread about this package which went through so much trauma and had the tiny queen who apparently died about the same time that I installed the remnants of the package the second time. I am sure that the workers in there now are the original bees. My question is, do the queen-like changes that occur in a laying worker’s body make her live longer than a normal worker? Or is it because they don’t die of overwork, since all they is sit around and lay eggs? Do you know if anyone else has had this experience with laying workers living such a long time?

    • Sean,

      I remember reading that laying workers do not live longer due to any hormone changes (although I can’t remember where I saw it.) I suspect that, like you said, they live longer because they are protected within the hive and not out foraging.

  • I think we have one or more laying worker hives and I’m reading your posts to figure out what to do. We split from 5 hives to 9 in April (walkaway splits) and the requeening has been awful. I don’t even know at this point whether any of the splits actually successfully raised a queen, or if the only queenright ones are those who kept the old queen. I’d have to check my records to be sure but what I do know is that several hives have been queenless since APRIL or else they raised drone-laying queens. One of them, we introduced a queen who disappeared, presumably they killed her. It’s really very discouraging.

    My question is, we have not seen the key laying worker symptom, the multiple/jumbled egg cell. In fact, the two I’m thinking of have no eggs whatsoever. Can’t find an egg anywhere. And yet, they keep turning up scattered drone brood. We keep transferring in brood frames (and, you’re right, all of the donor hives ar suffering for it) and those are the only source of worker brood.

    Is there such a thing as a laying worker hive that somehow lacks the laying worker eggs? Obviously, the drone brood is coming from somewhere so someone is laying drone eggs but they must be in such small quantity that we just can’t find them.

    • Jilian,

      You could also have a drone-laying queen, although that is not as common. A drone-laying queen has used up her supply of fertilized eggs and now lays only unfertilized ones. I would just get rid of those colonies because the problems are going to continue.

  • I decided to let my laying worker hive bee after I learned they yield live drones. For some reason I thought laying workers laid infertile eggs. I must have read that on the internet.

    My objective as a bee”keeper” is first and foremost to promote the health of honeybees, not the health of individual bees or of my hives. If laying workers create drones who can mate with queens, and queen”wrong” hives can have multiple laying workers, the genetic diversity coming from that hive is many times greater than the genetic diversity coming from a queen”right” hive. I just read a website post that says a queen might mate with as many as 40 drones (I’ve read 6 to 20 before.) Whatever the number, that is the possible number of genetically distinct sets of half brother drones a queen”wrong” hive will produce, as compared to the tens of thousands of identical drones that come from a queen”right” hive. By letting my queen”wrong” hive bee, I introduced a lot more genetic diversity into the Drone Congregation Area that serves all my neighbors’ bees and the feral bees in the neighborhood, and the bees in my queenwrong hive will die of ripe old age (or be consumed by predators) and I’ll put their honey into another hive or into my pantry.

    Had I succeeded in “requeening” from eggs from another hive I would have created a new queen with half the DNA of my other queen and a host of identical haploids that would have joined the host of their uncle identical haploid drones from the other hive in the DCA, diluting the genetic diversity of the whole neighborhood.

    I have concluded, in a very simplistic and probably unscientific manner, that laying workers are one way nature has kept the species alive. I think we should let them bee.

    • Jeffrey,

      Laying workers lay unfertilized eggs, which is why you get drones. I don’t agree that the genetic diversity is greater with drones from workers than drones from fertilized queens. The workers have genes from their mother and from drone fathers. Those laying workers produce unfertilized eggs with no additional genetic input, so I don’t see how the genetic diversity could be greater than the mother’s. Where would the diverse genes have come from?

      For the record, most queens mate about 12 times. I suppose 40 is possible, but it certainly isn’t usual or average. Also, I don’t understand your reference to a host of “identical haploids.” Just because drones from one queen are haploid doesn’t mean they are identical. The queen’s genes sort in the usual way during meiosis, so drone brothers are not identical to each other.

  • Thank you for explaining my misunderstanding about haploids. I understood drones were genetically identical to their mother.

    Notwithstanding that, the laying workers in my queenless hive are half-sisters, the daughters of the same queen and about 12 (accepting your number) different fathers. The drones they are producing have 12 different grandfathers. Had I succeeded in introducing a new queen, the hive would have produced drones that were all her sons, all with the same grandfather. That’s where the diverse genes come from.

    • There’s no more or less genetic diversity in the colony, whether it’s queen-right or laying worker. All of a given colony’s gene pool is represented by the queen and the sperm of the drones she mated with. As eggs are laid by the queen, these genes pass into the workers and drones. If the colony then goes queen-less and workers begin to lay eggs, these carry no more or less diversity than was already present.

      • Not to beat this thing to death, but Cal is comparing a laying worker hive’s diversity to the same hive before its queen stopped laying. I am comparing a different two scenarios – one where I let the laying workers continue laying, and the other where I successfully introduce an egg from a second hive and the workers raise it as a new queen, and then raise her eggs and larva instead of their own. I maintain that in the second scenario I terminate the genetic line of the laying workers. And this is all under the topic of the title of this thread “Why save a laying worker hive?” though by “save” I propose to let it live, not to add a new unrelated queen to it.

        • You are talking about something different than I. I agree that you and “Cal” are correct as to genetics “in the colony,” and that the workers cannot introduce genetics “into the colony” but that is not the point I raised, and it is still not my point. I am talking about the genetics in the Drone Congregation Area to which my hives contribute, and if you and Cal are saying that a laying worker hive contributes the same genetics to the DCA as did their dead mother, I am dumbfounded. A laying queen produces haploid drones that have the genetics of her father but none of the genetics of her mates. Once she dies or otherwise stops laying and her daughters become laying workers, her many laying worker daughters produce haploid drones that reintroduce the genetics of those many different mates to the DCA. If those drones succeed in mating, they will re-introduce the genetics of their different fathers, whether 6 or 12 or 40, back into the gene pool. If the queen had not stopped laying, the only way for her mates’ genes to survive and re-enter the gene pool, is if one of their daughters succeeds to become a queen. I see a natural beauty in a laying worker hive. Again, I am not saying the laying workers’ contribution to genetic diversity is guaranteed, I am only saying that a laying worker hive is good for genetic diversity in the natural state.

  • OK let’s use your number (12). Drones from my laying worker hive have many different mothers, one maternal grandmother, and 12 different maternal grandfathers. That’s what I’m presently sending to the Drone Congregation Area, along with drones from my queenright hive.

    Had I “corrected” my laying worker hive by adding an egg from my queenright hive, the drones from my corrected hive would all have one mother – that egg turned into a queen, one maternal grandmother (the queen in my queenright hive), and one maternal grandfather, (the drone whose sperm fertilized that egg). That maternal grandmother is already the mother of all the drones in the DCA from her hive, so the drones from the two hives would be very closely related. They would be the haploid drones from one mother, and their haploid nephews produced by one of their half-sisters. I think that would be far less genetic diversity in the DCA than drones with 13 different grandfathers and, hopefully, 2 unrelated grandmothers.

    I anticipate the argument that drones raised late in the season stand little chance of successfully reproducing. I submit that any chance of the laying workers adding genes to the species is more chance than none, which is the result of deliberately cutting off the laying worker’s genetic lineage by “fixing” the hive.

    • Jeffrey,

      Sure, if your second scenario of a queen derived from “an egg” introduced into a laying-worker colony were possible, and that virgin queen were to get mated and subsequently lay in the colony, it would certainly “terminate the genetic line of the laying workers”. Just like any other colony where one kills the existing queen and allows it to raise a new one or introduces a mated queen, the genetics of the colony gradually comes to reflect the new mated queen’s genes and those of the drones she bred with. However, the main problem I see with your second scenario is that the laying worker colony isn’t going to raise a new queen from eggs you introduce. To anthropomorphize, they think they have a queen, due to pheromones produced by the laying workers, and so will not be inspired to make another from the introduced eggs. This makes your second scenario meaningless. But, I sure wish it were possible because then correcting a laying-worker situation would be routine; just pop in a frame with eggs.

      And, you’re wrong about the genetic diversity in the drones derived from the new queen in this hypothetically corrected colony. The virgin queen that would result from the introduced eggs still has to go out and get mated, with a unknown number of drones. So, the population of drones she subsequently produces have multiple grandfathers, not one as you state. This is all moot though, since it won’t happen.

      There may be value to letting a laying worker colony produce drones for the area until it collapses, if they are desirable stock and you’re keeping their Varroa load down.

      • I’ve read many authorities who propose adding a frame with larva and eggs to a laying worker hive as a way to “fix” is. See, for example, Rusty Burlew’s Honeybee Suite 7/7/2014 entry titled “how to fix a laying worker hive:”
        “One of the best ways to save the hive is to introduce a frame of open worker brood every few days until the bees begin to raise a supersedure queen.”

        I don’t know if it ever works; it failed for me. The bees built a queen cell after I added a single frame with eggs and larva. Later I checked the cell was empty and the hive still showed signs of laying workers, at which point I decided the hive was fine as it was, pollinating and making honey and raising many different drones. I can see by looking that they are the sons of many mothers. they are dark and light and striped. I posted some photos of them on my facebook page above.

    • Correcting myself:
      You’re right about the drones from the hypothetical queen raised in the “corrected” laying worker colony having one maternal grandfather. Sorry – was thinking workers, I guess. Otherwise, I think I was correct about the chance of this being possible. But, I wonder why you think the DCA will contain drones just from your hives. If it did, then your reasoning about possibly greater diversity from the laying worker drones vice those from the “corrected” colony seems sound.

      • No, I don’t think the DCA will contain drones just from my hives. I’m guessing each hive in my neighborhood provides about 10,000 drones. My 20,000 drones (2 hives) are a fraction of the total. I also assume, though, that if beekeepers are culling drone larva in my neighborhood that my drones are better represented than theirs, but I have no idea who is keeping bees in my urban neighborhood. I know of one beekeeper with three hives, all related to each other from a swarm captured last year with Swarm Commander I gave him, my laying worker hive related to those 3, one feral colony in a house down the street, plus my hive that came this year to a hive I baited with Swarm Commander (on the recommendation of Rusty Burlew in her 8/17/2015 post.). So that makes 3 related queens with 3 grandfathers, a feral queen with a grandfather, my front yard hive queen with a fifth grandfather, and my many laying workers with 10 to 20 grandfathers adding drones to the DCA, plus whatever else is out there. Of the 5 colonies I know, there are 14 to 24 grandfathers, and 4 of them are not from my laying worker hive. If my drones came from extra-fast grandfather stock, the odds are very good the fastest of them have bred with queens that emerged late in the spring.

        As to varroa, I don’t see any Deformed wing virus in my laying worker hive. I just went and pulled the bottom board and found only one mite on a quick inspection. I’m assuming that is because there was a break in brood production when the queen failed. It’s important to note that this colony was a swarm I caught at my neighbor’s apiary this year, so that was another, more significant break in brood production for this particular hive.

        I have given this topic a lot of thought and I offer a theory: laying workers’ mother had to be a successful queen. She laid eggs that produced those workers. The “failed” queen most likely died of predation or clumsy beekeeping inspection, or stopped laying when she ran out of eggs, but in order to have worker daughters she had to survive queen dueling and mating flight, and be mated well and produce fertile female eggs. I believe laying workers in a beekeeperless state are from superior survivor stock on both sides – mother and father(s), so allowing their drone sons to live and breed is a good thing. I also propose that the natural process of successful swarming and colonizing produces many closely related queens in close proximity, and when the bees in a neighborhood become too inbred, the laying workers might offer a natural solution to that inbreeding.

        I have an observation – my laying worker hive is calm, quiet, and not aggressive. there is some honey but little brood. They seem to care little about me disturbing them.

        Finally, I propose that people who hire out bees to pollinate crops might consider keeping their queens at home and splitting their hives and sending the queenless half out to pollinate. I think most of the bees in the queenless hive will concentrate on collecting nectar and pollen while some will eventually become laying workers, but for a period there would be no nurse bees and no honey or brood to guard, so a lot of energy would be expended in foraging. And the break in brood cycle will be good for varroa management.

        Just an idea.

  • “Looking at it from another angle, remember that the queen died for some reason. We don’t know the reason, but why preserve what might have been bad genetics?”

    I propose that they should be preserved because the drone fathers of the laying workers have proven themselves to be champions by successfully mating with a queen in the drone congregation area, against extraordinary odds. Even assuming the queen was genetically inferior, the drones who successfully mated with her still beat extraordinary odds and gave their lives, and the only way their genes stand a chance of continued participation in the genetic pool is through their laying worker daughters.

  • I have a laying worker nuc. Can I just take the frames with drawn comb, shake off the bees, and insert that drawn comb (with multiple eggs in it) straight into a strong colony? Or should I freeze it first to kill those laying worker eggs and then put into the other colony?

    • Katherine,

      Just shake off the bees and leave the eggs in the cells. The strong colony knows what to do with the eggs (they will most likely eat them).

  • (I did sort of look for a post where this would be on topic.)
    William Longgood in The Queen Must Die:

    “It is known that in rare cases fertile worker bees have been found in hives after the queen is dead or removed;”

    Rusty, Any idea who “it is known“ by? Is it known to someone I trust (you, for example) or someone you think I should trust? It seems like it might make an interesting post. (I say, giving in to my terrible habit of suggesting more work for anybody not me!)

    • Roberta,

      Maybe by “fertile” he means “egg laying.” In other words, maybe he is referring to laying workers are fertile bees. On the other hand, cape honey bees (Apis capensis) can lay diploid (female) eggs. It’s called thelytoky. I have never heard of a A. mellifera doing that, so I think it’s just a case of different times, different language. (But I’ve been wrong before!)

    • Roberta,

      Maybe by “fertile” he means “egg laying.” In other words, maybe he is referring to laying workers are fertile bees. On the other hand, cape honey bees (Apis capensis) can lay diploid (female) eggs. It’s called thelytoky. I have never heard of a A. mellifera doing that, so I think it’s just a case of different times, different language. (But I’ve been wrong before!)

  • This was on page 163/164 of my new-to-me paperback first edition. He’s talked about laying workers as “common enough” and then he mentions this rare thing. Pretty sure he’s still talking about honey bees. I was skeptical when I read it, but I supposed someone might have done a study once and found it happens every million queenless hives or thereabouts.
    I gather you haven’t heard any such thing. Oh, well. Gotta read about bees because today’s weather was still the dreaded wintry mix.

    • Roberta,

      Well, there goes my theory. If it can happen in cape honey bees, maybe it can happen in our honey bees. But if it does, it must be rare. It’s not the kind of thing I’d sit around and wait for.

  • I’m a city beekeeper in Minnesota (short beekeeping season) with a small apiary spot on my roof for two hives. I suspect one of the hives – a new package this year – has a laying worker problem and the other is pretty strong and populous. I’m particularly interested in the part of your article under “Appearances are deceiving” about making a regular split and letting them raise a queen, because I’m working on a Plan B. Plan A is that I already put two frames of brood from the strong hive — with a couple hive tool notches under some of the eggs for good measure — 6 days apart, into the LW hive. The LW stopped laying. When I put the second frame in on day 6, I saw that they had made a queen cell on the first frame, but it was unsealed. Since it needs 8.5 to 9 days to seal, it could be sealed by now, or not. Or there could be a new queen cell on the 2nd frame, and it could be sealed or not. Plan A is if there is a sealed queen cell when I look within a few days. I will bow out for awhile and see what happens. Plan B is for if there is not a sealed queen cell in the LW hive. A beekeeping friend told me I may have better luck making a split and letting one of the new colonies raise a new queen. Sounds similar to what you said. I was thinking not to worry about who gets the queen, divide the brood from my strong colony and put it in the middle of two boxes, divide the food and put it on the outside, put a new box on top of each, and work on raising bees this year instead of making honey. But I’m wondering if I should I shake the LW hive out in front of the strong hive first, completely dismantle their hive, put their frames in the freezer — except for the two fertile frames I added, most of their fertile brood has probably hatched — give them a few days to join that colony or desist, and then make the split? Or make the split first? If I make the split first, what do I do with the LW colony, since I don’t have room for three hives? Could you spell out more exactly what you were thinking about in “Appearances are deceiving?”

  • I’m a city beekeeper in Minnesota (short beekeeping season) with a small apiary spot on my roof for two hives. I suspect one of the hives – a new package this year – has a laying worker problem and the other is pretty strong and populous. I’m particularly interested in the part of your article under “Appearances are deceiving” about making a regular split and letting them raise a queen, because I’m working on a Plan B. Plan A is that I already put two frames of brood from the strong hive — with a couple hive tool notches under some of the eggs for good measure — 6 days apart, into the LW hive. The LW stopped laying. When I put the second frame in on day 6, I saw that they had made a queen cell on the first frame, but it was unsealed. Since it needs 8.5 to 9 days to seal, it could be sealed by now, or not. Or there could be a new queen cell on the 2nd frame, and it could be sealed or not. Plan A is if there is a sealed queen cell when I look within a few days. I will bow out for awhile and see what happens. Plan B is for if there is not a sealed queen cell in the LW hive. A beekeeping friend told me I may have better luck making a split and letting one of the new colonies raise a new queen. Sounds similar to what you said. I was thinking not to worry about who gets the queen, divide the brood from my strong colony and put it in the middle of two boxes, divide the food and put it on the outside, put a new box on top of each, and work on raising bees this year instead of making honey. But I’m wondering if I should I shake the LW hive out in front of the strong hive first, completely dismantle their hive, put their frames in the freezer — except for the two fertile frames I added, most of their fertile brood has probably hatched — give them a few days to join that colony or desist, and then make the split? Or make the split first? If I make the split first, what do I do with the LW colony, since I don’t have room for three hives?

  • Thank you Rusty Reading this whole thread was very therapeutic for me this morning, tackling the great disappointment of my only hive going queen-wrong this late in the season. I am in Red Sox country and ready to transition to “better luck next year,” after considering the futility of any other approach. You are wise and eloquent on this topic.

    On the count my blessings side of things, this hive is full of honey, although most of the frames are not completely capped. I am looking for guidance on extracting this honey. Is there a risk that the whole batch will ferment if it is not sufficiently evaporated? I have kept bees for many years but have never had this issue without another hive available to transfer uncapped frames to.-

  • Really great comments. Thank Rusty for your practical and mature responses. I ended up with 2 hives with laying workers. I made 4 or 5 attempts to introduce brood and 1 week intervals along with introducing queen cells. No luck. I also would love to save every bee but I believe that dumping the hive is most practical. Rather than continuing to save the hive, make another split with the open brood. The odds are better and the time is the same.

  • I had a hive with laying workers and made a nuc from a package. Two weeks later, the hive had been emptied of bees for some days, probably a couple of weeks.

    I opened it to find thousands of wax moth larvae.

    I’d have preferred to add a brood frame here and there to keep the hive running until it maybe cycled everything out and produced a queen of its own. (I have nowhere else to store drawn comb, least of all not a freezer or vacuum-sealed box.)

  • Rusty, will drone laying workers try to make a queen with drone eggs/larvae? I have a hive that I’m pretty sure has drone-laying workers – 2 larvae in a cell, multiple eggs in a cell and in a queen cup, eggs in pollen cells, eggs on sides, etc. This hive was a walk-away split that ended up with a drone-laying queen. Introduced a frame with eggs from another hive and they made 1 queen cell. 5 weeks later appears to be drone-laying workers, now 6 weeks later I was ready to dismantle the hive but saw this capped queen cell in the middle of a frame. It saddens me that I have to shake them out and want to be sure before I do so. Thank You

    • Annette,

      All laying workers lay only drones because they have never mated. They will not try to make a queen because they give off their own limited amounts of queen-like pheromone, which makes the rest of the workers think they already have a queen. It sounds like a lot of time has passed since you had a real queen, so I doubt you will get a good result from the lone queen cell.