Occasionally you see something happening in a beehive that is worth sharing with others and today the event was created when a queen was removed from a hive 18 days ago along with all of the larvae that was less than 72 hours old. The reason for doing such a thing, which under normally circumstances would be a crazy thing to do, was to trigger the event where the worker bees are unable to create a new queen due to the age of the bee larvae being too old (older than 72 hours) and chaos becomes the norm in what is normally a well organised society within a normal colony.
In a Dr Who episode it could only be considered as ‘a weird series of happenings’ but in a honey bee hive it triggers a strange event where the workers begin to lay eggs and as they have never mated and for that matter cannot mate the eggs all hatch to become drones (boy bees). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drone_(bee)
When this occurs as it occasionally does when over zealous beekeepers who should know better opens their hive and on discovering queen cells take it upon themselves as the ‘beekeeper knows best’ to grub out / kill off (squash) all of the queen cells in the misbelief that their hive is thinking about swarming and that they need to prevent this.
What in fact has occurred is that the bees have had their last hopes killed by their trusted guardian, the beekeeper, who acted without thinking and killed off any chance of the hive rearing a new queen to replace their queen that has otherwise gone missing when she either fell off a frame during the last hive inspection and was stepped on or was accidentally crushed by the beekeeper when removing or replacing a frame in the hive.
The lack of queen pheromone triggers the worker bees to start laying and when this occurs the hive enters an ever downward spiral since it is now queenless and unable to make a new queen since their is no larvae less than 72 hours old that is suitable.
What to do when this occurs???, Adding a caged queen will not help and in fact is a complete waste of time and a queen as whilst the hive has no queen per say it doesnt think its queenless as a number of the workers have now stepped into her shoes to take on her role. Unfortunately this means that they think of themselves as queens and any queen you try to introduce into the hive will just bee killed since unlike a hive without a queen that accepts a queen under normal circumstances we are not dealing with normal circumstances here but rather a chaos event.
Introducing young larvae from another hive in the misbelief that the hive will seize the opportunity and create a productive queen cell from this less than 72 hour bee larvae will again also faith as again they dont believe they need a need a new queen as they again believe that they have a queen…
So, what can be done to save this hive? Unfortunately nothing can be done to save the colony and the best thing to do is to move the hive at least 6 metres (20 ft)f from its original location and open the hive after first smoking it. Then brush all of the live worker bees from each the frames off onto the ground. The frames can then be housed inside any other active hive. Remember: Your hives MUST BE disease free before you introduce any frame from one hive into another and beekeepers spread more bee diseased than bees do.
The displaced adult honey bees from the problem hive will soon take flight looking to return to the original location of their hive only to find it missing. They will muster around trying to work out what has happened and as dusk nears will enter any other hive that will have them thereby sharing their workers around. The queen-right hives that these bees enter have a normal honey bee society and wont stand for any nonsense from these refugees. They quickly return to their roles as foraging bees as the pheromones from the queen-right hive and the number of bees in the queen-right hive soon remind the egg laying workers of who is fact is the real queen and the rightful matriarch of the colony.
The pictures attached are of frames from the hive when the worker bees were triggered to become egg laying workers. This occurred as we run beekeeping classes throughout the year and reading about this phenomenon only makes so much sense buy as they say ‘seeing is believing’ and by triggering the event the bee school participants could see first hand what the problem was in the hive.
The attached image include multiple eggs inside a single cell rather than what is the norm in a queen-right hive that has one egg centrally deposited by the queen at the base of the cell. This has occurred when the egg laying workers are all laying eggs.There are actually a number of cells showing this.
Also, and hopefully the image doesn’t let me down here, but hopefully you can also see where multiple eggs have hatched inside a single cell and are all being raised on the food being provided to them by the queenless colony. This as you hopefully appreciate is a chaos hive that is entering a downward spiral that they cannot escape from, ever.
Anyway, this is all shared to help other beekeepers who find themselves with a hive of egg laying workers and who are told of a number of urban myths to right the problem, all of which are a wait of time and effort.
Rule number 1 don’t panic, rule number 2 do what is outlined above and order another nucleus hive to continue with your journey into beekeeping. Rule number 3 smile and nod politely to anyone offering you a fix by adding a queen or offering additional brood to turn your hive problem around, these poor misguided individuals mean well, they are not beekeepers but rather are ‘keepers of bees’ who mean well.
In a few weeks your new nucleus hive will be well established and will be ploughing along and if you act quickly enough you still may have enough time to secure a honey crop in the coming weeks.
Anyway, thats that, hope this post helps those wondering what to do should this situation present itself in their hive/s.
By for now.