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Colony seems to be small/static, with very big drone population


Hello all.
I am concerned about the population of my hive. They have been in place for about three months now. Early on, I made some mistakes (beginner bee keeper) - I allowed a lot of burr comb to develop and in removing it, I also removed a lot of brood accidentally. Nonetheless, everything seemed ok.

Over recent weeks however, I’ve become concerned for a few reasons:

Firstly, the hive seems to be very static - only two frames seem to have significant activity. There is comb in seven of the eight frames, but only a small amount in most frames, and most of the bees seem to be concentrated in the last two frames.

Secondly, there has been a change in their feeding behaviour. I’ve been supplying them with sugar syrup from an entrance feeder regularly, but in recent weeks they have begun massing on the feeder heavily in a real ‘frenzy’ for want of a better word. In the past, a few bees at a time could be seen feeding but there is often a hundred or much more on the feeder at once now.

Thirdly, there seems to be an awful lot of drones in the hive and not many workers. I’ve been finding a lot of dead bees outside the hive too, not just drones, but many workers too.

Finally, I haven’t been able to spot the queen in recent weeks either.

What are your thoughts? I’m located in Sydney, so we’re moving into winter, but it has been mild so far if that counts for anything. I have noticed the occasional hive beetle too, but only ever one or so each time, so I doubt that is the issue.

Below are some pictures that will hopefully illustrate what’s going on. Thanks in advance. Chris.


Could it be that your queen is dead and you only have laying workers? Check if you see eggs and if there’s only one on the bottom of the cell. If there are more than one egg in one cell, probably on the walls instead of the bottom, get a new colony…


You don’t say where in the world you are in your profile… :wink: Although I note that your posting says Sydney.

I agree with Angy, it sounds like you have a queenless hive. When that has been going on for while (queenlessness), it is hard to deal with (more than a week or two is a problem, because the nurse bees begin to lay, and they may not stop, even if you put a new queen in), but you definitely need a new queen and possibly a new colony. If you are heading into winter, you might want to wait until next year. Queens and colonies are hard to find in autumn in most parts of the world.

Sorry you are having difficulties. Next year will be easier, because you will have more experience.


Hi Chris, I have had a good look over your bees and cells, I don’t see a queen but that doesn’t mean she is not there. I can see some larva in some cells but if this is drone larva then they may have been laid a week or two ago. Have a good look inside your cells for eggs, this is the only way verify a laying queen. The eggs should be mostly in the middle of the cells and not on the sides. There is not too many drones in there, however some of the cells look like emerging bees have died and there is some disturbance to cells walls indicative of wax moth.
If you have no queen, then unless you have access to another hive or a mate who can supply a couple of good brood frames then they may be doomed being this close to winter. The best course of action is to combine them with a healthy established hive (if you have one) to get them through the winter. Else, reduce the entrance, put a winter mat on and keep feeding, they may make it through.
New packages and queens are no longer available in NSW, Vic and Qld (unless you make some desperate calls to beekeepers in Nth Qld). Don’t panic it happens, I have Nuc in a similar situation and am feeding brood frames every two weeks from a 2nd healthy hive. Most importantly have a look for those eggs on a warm sunny day.


The brood pattern looks like you have no queen.


Thank you everyone. It’s definitely sounding like I’m queen-less. What a shame! I’ve emailed a number of queen breeders in Queensland where they may still (hopefully!) have some, so I’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime I’ll try to keep this lot alive following your kind advice above.

Thank you once again. Chris.


Hi Chris, it looks like you certainly have a queenless hive there. Also you could have a bit of SHB damage. I would try & locate a frame of brood if possible & tear down the drone comb as well as the worker comb with drone brood in it. You’ll probably have to insert a frame of brood say, every 7-10 days until the laying worker stops laying & the colony starts building queen cells on the brood you insert.

I’m currently having to do that with one of my own hives. Persistence will pay off. Each frame of brood you/we add will boost the colonies population.

You need to remove any drone brood because drones are of no use to you at this stage. Plus you run the risk of SHB laying eggs in the drone brood.

Personally I would move away from foundationless & go straight to wax foundation.


There are a couple of Queen cups on the frames as well - and the spotty Drone cells screamed Queenless - if the weather is mild there may be someone with a young virgin or mated Queen by you


You can’t re-queen. You have laying workers and they will just kill her. Jeffs notion of adding brood frames will work because the brood pheromone will suppress the laying workers… Eventually and they will raise a new queen. BUT I gather you are running out of time for that.


JeffH has the answers you’ve been seeking!

After rectifying the queen issue I would be concentrating on the comb you do have. From the photos, it looks like a lot of drone comb… i’d personally be using a couple of sheets of foundation to establish some dense worker brood frames (as ‘unnatural’ as that apparently is :open_mouth: ). This obviously won’t be required if you’re introducing established brood comb as JeffH is suggesting.


The spotty brood is typical of laying workers. The queen cells are promising, in that they still know they are queenless. Soon they will tear those down and there will be so many laying workers making pheromones that they won’t know. You might get away with introducing a queen IF you give them a comb of open brood at the same time or a few days before… they also are likely to start queen cells from some open brood right now. In a few days it will be too late for that.



This forum is so educational to a new bee keeper like my self. I am still learning what to look for when I inspect the hive. This is most interesting. I have trouble finding my queen.


Try this:


You are not alone! Even after many years of beekeeping, I find queen-spotting difficult on a moving target. It is much easier if you can take a photo of both sides of every frame, then review them at leisure. You need a good quality photo, though, so that you can enlarge it enough to see clearly.

We installed a couple of nuclei last weekend. With the first nucleus, the queen was easy to spot as she sedately roamed the fourth frame we installed. She also had a white dot marking her, although it was already partly rubbed off. The second nucleus we couldn’t find the queen at all. Fortunately, I insisted on looking in the cardboard nucleus transport box, and there she was, running around and trying to be evasive. She was also marked - I think I would have missed her if she wasn’t. I gently persuaded her to walk onto my wax and propolis coated hive tool, and placed her on top of a frame of brood. She immediately dived down into the hive.

My point is, even experienced beekeepers have trouble finding the queen. A mark on her thorax can help immensely, but even with that, queens can be very elusive. You are not the only one! :wink:


Don’t stress about it at every inspection.
If you have eggs then she is likely there. It is said that eggs are laid so that they stand up and by the third day they are lying flat in the cell. It’s not really an accurate measurement of their age though.
There are only a few occasions when you do need to find her.


Get an observation hive and put a colony in it with an unmarked queen. Find her several times a day and you’ll get very good at it.