No eggs, no larvae, no queen. That is how we found the hive upon our last inspection. The hive cannot survive without a queen and this is a critical time. With the nectar drying up, hives are now getting ready for winter. It’s time to strengthen the hive to prepare for the many months that the hive must survive until the nectar and pollen return. Our hive has already been experienced many set backs and here is one more at a time when it is most important to be strong.
Purchased Queen: We decided to purchase a new queen instead of waiting for the time it takes for one of the queen cells we left in the hive to emerge, claim the hive and go on a mating flight before returning to the hive to lay eggs. It can all take up to 15 days from the time she emerges to the time she starts laying. This is precious time the hive doesn’t have right now.
The purchased queen has already been mated, so she is ready to start laying once the hive accepts her. She comes in a small box with a sugar plug. You place her in the hive and she eats her way out of the box in about 4-5 days. This gives the hive time to get used to her before she emerges. We were told we had to destroy any queen cells in the hive before placing her in the hive or else the hive wouldn’t accept her. So we went about another inspection with a goal of removing all queen cells.
Unexpected Findings: This inspection was just three days after the inspection with no eggs, no larvae, no queen. We found eggs, we found one of the queen cells that had been opened up. There hasn’t been enough time for a queen to emerge, mate and start laying eggs. Inspecting the eggs a bit closer, we found there was sometimes two eggs in a cell and the egg placement in the cells was more erratic than normal. We had heard of this happening and had to research it a bit more to make sure we had properly identified the situation and learned what to do about it.
False Queen: We had a laying worker bee. A queen bee evolves from a normal bee egg that has been feed special food to make her a queen. This special food is called ‘Royal Jelly’. A queen bee puts out pheromones that suppress the ovary development of the worker bees. When a hive goes without a queen for a period of time, sometimes one of the worker bees will develop reproductive organs that allow them to lay eggs since the pheromones are no longer present in the hive. They will start laying eggs and take over as queen for the hive.
The eggs that the laying worker bee produces have never been fertilized and therefore only produce drone bees. The hive cannot survive with a laying worker bee. The laying worker bee will sometimes put two eggs or more eggs in a cell, so that is one clue. Also, their abdomen isn’t as long as the queen, and she can’t reach the bottom of the cell to place the egg. This means that the eggs are sometimes on the side of the cell instead of in the center of the bottom of the cell as a normal queen would do.
What to do? Once a worker bee becomes a laying worker bee, she will not accept a new queen and neither will the hive. We had brought home a new queen to introduce to the hive, but she won’t be accepted and will be killed if we don’t get rid of this false queen.
Following instructions we found online, we took the two bee boxes to a place at least 100 yards from the hive location taking an empty bee box with us. We systematically shook and brushed all the bees off each frame and placed them in the empty box set about 20 feet away, closing a lid so the bees couldn’t get back on the frames. We did this until all the frames were emptied of the bees. Then we hauled the empty bee hive back to its original location where many bees were now waiting for their hive.
Why is this the solution? Bees have different responsibilities in the hive and as they mature their duties change. The younger bees stay in the hive and take care of the eggs and larvae. These bees are called ‘nurse’ bees. The false queens or laying worker bees are always nurse bees. They have never been out of the hive. The older bees are the ‘field’ bees. They leave the hive in search of nectar and pollen and come back to the hive repeatedly. After emptying the hive of the bees and returning the hive to its normal location, the field bees come right back to the hive, however, the nurse bees don’t know where to find it and therefore don’t come back. This process gets rid of the nurse bees.
This process seems brutal, but it is the only way to make sure that we get rid of the false queen, so that the new true queen can survive. The hive won’t survive without a true queen. The good of the many outweigh the good of the few. I know this is true and is critical to do, but that doesn’t make it easy. I want to take care of them all. I hate the thought of these nurse bees without a home.
Even with this process and the new queen, we know that our hive is highly at risk at this point for not surviving the winter. We will continue to do everything we can to improve the odds of survival for these bees. We have grown quite fond of them and feel very protective. I must say that there is so much more to beekeeping than we ever knew.
Keep on beekeeping, Sheri