What to do with a drone laying worker and no queen?

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House Bee
May 26, 2010
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Fife, Scotland
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my neighbour got his first nuc about 3 weeks ago. it had 2 sealed QC's and either 3 or 5 (i cant remember which) frames of brood and stores along with it.

we did a hive inspection today and there seems to be significantly reduced numbers of bees, but, more worryingly, only drone brood. there is definately eggs and larvae but it all seems to be drone brood.

Neither of the QC's had emerged, so we took them off and looked inside - 2 dead Q's (one of which was not much past the larvae stage).

Although i am a newbee, i think he has a drone laying worker - might that be right?

we have another 3 hives in the village, but all are still small, although there is perhaps one frame of capped and uncapped brood that could be put into his hive - certainly no more than one or else the other 3 hives will be too depleted we think.

so the questions are, should he put this frame of unsealed brood in? will they make a QC out of the uncapped eggs? or is there something else that needs to be done?

oh nearly forgot, we counted about 9 verroa mites on the yellow floor from the last 24 hours - given that there is only drone brood in his hive, will this make the problem worse? should he be destroying the drone cells?

sorry to ask so many questions but books are only of limited help in these situations!

Where did you get this box of bees from? I would not call it a nuc as there was no queen. A nuc should have a mated queen and brood of all stages. If your friend paid for this 'nuc' then I would go back and ask for his money back.

There is not much point in trying to get this colony back, as the laying worker will kill off any queen cells/introduced queens.

We had this problem last year with a swarm that was our first colony. In the end we bought a nuc (real one) and then shook the bees off the old colony (at the other end of the garden). This meant that the healthy bees from the colony flew back to where the nuc was placed and joined that colony. So that the nuc wasn't swamped I took the precaution of facing the nuc 180 degrees to the original hive. After a few days I moved the whole lot back into the full size hive.

Hope that helps, if not I am sure someone much more experienced will enlighten us.

There is not much point in trying to get this colony back, as the laying worker will kill off any queen cells/introduced queens.


In the end we bought a nuc (real one) and then shook the bees off the old colony (at the other end of the garden). This meant that the healthy bees from the colony flew back to where the nuc was placed and joined that colony.

can't fault the solution either......!!
I'm starting to come to the conclusion that some colonies are just damned. We created 4 splits from our two hives, and caught 2 swarms.

3 of the splits have done really well and now have about 9 frames of brood - with no intervention required from us. One split seemed to be queenless (scattering of drone brood), so we merged it with a nuc by tipping the split up the field and separating the two with newspaper. All to no avail - it looks like the nuc is now in trouble. The large swarm has fixed itself, again with no intervention from us, 5 frames of eggs, all looking good.

I think we should just have left the drone laying split to die off naturally. All we have done is clobber the nuc by trying to merge with this doomed colony. Some colonies are destined to make it, others aren't.
On the specifics:

- 9 varroa from a small colony in 24 hours is a LOT. If I get one in 24 hours from an absolutely massive colony, I am surprised. I wonder if this is the root cause of the problems you have had - have all of the splits you've been given come from a source that is infested with varroa?

- this colony has no queen, or an infertile queen. How regular is the drone brood? Random scatterings indicates a laying worker, a nice big pattern indicates an infertile queen.

- You say all of the other hives in the village are small...but are they laying normally? Our splits that have worked have gone from zero to 9 frames of brood in 3 weeks. Slow build up is a worry, again, are they also awash with varroa?

- You could add a test frame, it could tell you they're queenless, you could buy a queen, and she could fail in such a weakened hive, or be rejected by laying workers.

- My advice would be to get a proper, strong, healthy nuc from a supplier, and start over. Trying to rescue the flying bees from the current colony will simply add risk for little reward, especially if they are awash with varroa. It seems harsh, but sometimes you're just throwing good bees after bad.
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flks, this is hugely helpful and many thanks indeed. we are going to take another look - possibly photos too - on wednesday so can update then.

i'm of the view he should just let them die off and get himself a new nuc with queen, etc.

will keep you posted as interesting
I think you might have a drone laying queen, and not laying workers.

DLQ = good laying pattern, eggs typically on the base of cells, just like a good queen would lay.

Laying workers = patchy laying pattern, eggs typically on cell sides, sometimes more than one egg per cell.

You have to find a DLQ and kill it before it wriggles off and you lose sight of it. Look for an undersize queen. Also look in any supers, as it might be small enough to get through the queen excluder.

Afterwards, introduce a new queen or queen cell, unite to a queenright colony, or write the lot off. Dunno whether it's worth giving them young brood to raise a new queen themselves.
Just writing from personal experience but i had a drone laying working and tried twice with frames of brood and they just let the brood hatch which boosts the numbers for a while but does not really help.

I also tried the option of shaking all the bees off and just letting the flying ones go back to the hive but that didn't work either. Two weeks later i had a drone laying worker again. :(

I have now given up and am leaving them to their own devices. I am still treating for varroa and checking for any disease etc and will treat them in the winter as usual if they are still around but i am not going to feed them over winter. I am afraid they are on their own. Well apart from the wax moth that no matter how many times i take out them grubs they still keep coming back.

On another note; they were my only hive in the garden until last Friday when i picked up a nice swarm. Saturday evening they were my only hive again because the swarm had buggered off. :confused:

Well i didn't want them anyway if they are going to be like that - how ungrateful!! :mad:

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