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Failed queen! What to do?


I found today that one of my two hives is missing all signs of a queen. No eggs or brood pattern. No queen (although this queen, when I released her from her queen cell about six weeks ago, looked like a big worker bee - very difficult to spot). In the bottom brood box I found what seems to be an emergency queen cell and some drone cells. In the second brood box I found two frames with what seemed to be abandoned brood. I’m attaching some photographs below.

The bees in the photograph are bees that died while emerging from their cells (sad).

Some background: The last time I inspected this hive, on 29 March, I flipped the two brood boxes since the queen was laying in the top brood box and they say flipping the boxes would encourage the queen to move upwards and expand. At that point there was capped brood and plenty of eggs. I didn’t spot the queen then either. Mite count has been very low.

As I see it I have two options:

  1. Wait and see if a queen emerges from that queen cell, mates, and starts to lay, or

  2. Try to join my two hives together by placing the failed hive on top of the other hive with a sheet of newspaper between them

One concern is the timeline - is there sufficient time for a queen to emerge, mate and start laying in this situation? The other concerns is what caused the failure? There is still larvae in the cells but it is not being tended to whatsoever. Perhaps joining the hives would bring down the other hive too if there is an infectious element at play.

Thank you everyone for your advice!


I would be worried about AFB with those dead larvae and bees plus the perforated cappings. Can you dip a matchstick into one of the gooey cells and see if it strings out?


Thanks Dee!

here are some better photos of some cells that I poked with a matchstick:

… and some other unhealthy looking cells:

I noticed that some of the bees that seemed dead are actually alive but likely doomed to die now that I’ve removed them from the hive.

Does this look like AFB?


Dee mentioned AFB in her post.


Cowgirl, I see now that you were replying to Dee. Sorry for the confusion!

Another follow up question now that I’m doubting what I’ve done in my last inspection - What I’ve done is removed the second brood box since it was entirely devoid of bees. There were no bees on the brood that I’ve photographed above. So now that brood box is in my basement and I’m wondering if I should have left it on the hive so the bees could possibly tend to the surviving brood and clean out whatever needs cleaning. Thoughts?


Good question. Do you have a local bee inspector? Our City of San Diego inspector is very available and helpful. They are usually more than willing to take a look at mysteries in hives, often for no cost unless you want special testing.

My other question is how many workers does the hive have? There are almost none in your photos, so either you did a fabulous job of shaking them off, or that hive is in serious trouble.


Just the dead bees,gooey larvae,the way some cappings have been opened and the scales remains (though it’s difficult to make out properly). It doesn’t completely look like AFB which looks greasy… but Dawn is right ianumeda should get a bee inspector to look at it.


Thanks Dee, Dawn_SD,

Dawn_SD, there is one 8-frame deep about 75% full of workers. Plenty of drones too. A laying worker situation has been on my mind for some time. I hear that laying workers and new queens don’t get along. Could that explain the missing queen? The second brood box was basically devoid of bees. No shaking required.

The folks at my local bee supplier, the BioFuel Oasis, suggested that it could be a natural population collapse following the swarming and emergence of a new queen and the bees weren’t able to maintain coverage of the two brood chambers and the brood died. Could that be? I really hope that could explain my predicament.

The matchstick test wasn’t at all caramel-like or stringy like AFB. But would abandoned brood go all mushy like egg-whites? Some of the holes in the abandoned brood seemed to be from the nearly-hatched brood poking out as they were wiggling their antennae and bits through the holes. The other suggestion was that it was mite related disease but my mite levels haven’t ever been lower since I used the oxalic acid/glycerine towel treatment over a month ago.

I checked the hive again today and I didn’t spot the queen. The only time I saw the queen was when I popped open her queen cell and she crawled out about six weeks ago. At that point she looked like an elongated worker bee and it left me wondering how I was going to spot her in future inspections. Some say they change appearance when they mate. Of course I’ve never seen her since so I don’t know. I didn’t see any eggs today either. Some workers were doodling around on the abandoned brood. Should I remove that second brood chamber? If there was healthy brood at this point I would keep two boxes. Since there isn’t any is it better to reduce?


Potentially - you usually don’t get laying workers until the hive has been queenless for some time though. Then any capped brood should be drones, not worker. Most of what was in your photo looked like worker brood to me.

Possibly, but unless you have another hive, I don’t have many ideas for you to rescue this one. If you do, I would start giving this hive a frame of brood every week (with nurse bees from the other hive).

If you really don’t have a queen, and you don’t have another hive, I am worried that this one is doomed. I would still ask your local bee inspector. At least you would have the benefit of an on-site pair of expert eyes looking at everything with you. In my experience, they are not hostile officials, just friendly bee enthusiasts who want to facilitate healthy bees.


I agree with Dawn. You need to get to the bottom of it not rely on speculation from us and others. You need eyes-on.
Bees wouldn’t abandon brood. There are always newly emerging bees to take on the role.
Unless the whole hive absconded…which happens but not in this instance.
Let us know what your inspector says and good luck


I do have another hive which seems to be doing well. It is a new queen
which swarmed from my primary hive maybe 7 weeks ago. This queen is easy to
spot. Earlier I listed joining the hives as an option but for the
possibility of spreading the infection if there is one. Dawn_sd, I’m unsure
that the other hive is strong enough to handle taking frames of brood away
at this point. They’ve only built out maybe 4 of the 8-frame deep box so
far. Thoughts?

I’ll look into having an inspector come through.


That would be my concern too.

Fair enough, I would only do it if the hive is really strong, and it doesn’t sound like it is.

Best idea of all. :wink:


Hello again! I’m just updating with some new observations (and questions).

There is definitely a laying worker in the aforementioned queenless hive now. They’ve cleaned out most of the abandoned worker brood.

The good news is that I found what I believe is a new queen in my other hive which I suspected of also being queenless a week or so back. Here’s a video. I’m not sure if it’s mated yet (didn’t see any eggs) and I’m not sure if there are more queens on the way. I do see a queen cup full of jelly. I could go back and inspect more thoroughly.

So here’s the question: If I can get a second queen from my recently re-queened hive what would be the procedure to move her to the queenless hive? and do I need to find laying workers and remove them?

I would propose merging the two together but of course I haven’t figured out what killed the queen and all that worker brood in the other hive. Given that the queens in both hives died almost at the same time perhaps both queens were born infected with the same disease?.. in which case I could merge the two without worrying about spreading anything except for laying workers.

Your thoughts are very appreciated!


Just a few thoughts and they don’t address all your questions
Laying workers…there will be lots, not just one.
You cannot introduce a new queen to such a hive, the bees think they have a queen and will kill her.
You can introduce brood frames, sometimes three or four are needed before the laying workers will stop but as you’ve pointed out you don’t have the frames spare
The traditional method of sorting a laying worker hive is to shake the bees out infront of a few other hives…which you don’t have. You do, of course, lose the colony but keep the bees.
Exceptionally, you can unite a very weak laying worker colony by putting a very strong queen right colony on top, through newspaper.
Most importantly you absolutely must get that inspector over. No point just trying things.


Leave the hive in the video alone: It may wind up being the hive that you split later to recoup your losses. That queen acts un-mated or newly mated the way she runs like that. Close them up and check in a week.