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Fixing a laying worker problem late in the year?

Hi everyone, I hope your beekeeping season has gone well. Mine has been a bit hectic.
Review of the last few months:

  • Started with one big hive, split it into two, one did very well, the other one kept killing the queens I put in for them. They have been dubbed the “mean hive”, due to stinging family members constantly.
  • The other one was and still is doing amazing, and they’re filling up a second brood box (slowly, because of the dearth). As of yesterday, they are still queenright.
  • A few months ago I caught a swarm. It was a little one, so yesterday I fed them and put a frame of brood in it from the booming hive (it was also covered in nurse bees), to boost their population a little bit. The swarm is also queenright.

As for the ‘mean’ hive, I think they are still queenless. Due to a busy schedule, bad weather, and, unfortunately, negligence (* regret intensifies *), I think they now have laying workers. They have had a medium super on top of their single deep all season long, and I put a bee escape yesterday between the two boxes. The medium super is filled with capped honey, and very difficult to lift off. I hoped reducing them to one deep would make them easier to deal with. If they survive, I’ll return their medium super for food. If they don’t, I’ll either extract some of the frames or distribute them to my other hives.
That’s the thing. If they survive. I’ve done research on ways to fix the problem. Today when I take the medium super off, I hope to take a look at the deep frames, but all I saw yesterday was just a ton of capped honey and drones running around their sisters. The bees are still very easily agitated. Do you think I can try and fix the laying worker problem this late in the year? In the next few weeks, we are transitioning from 80 degree weather to the 70s.

(Side note: The swarm is mostly likely Carniolan, so calm I’ve never had to smoke them. The booming hive is Saskatraz, and the mean hive is probably Saskatraz too. Heard of any aggression in this type of bee that would match what the mean hive is like?)

Thanks in advance!

The most common reason a colony will kill an introduced queen is that there is already a queen in the colony. For bees to have killed more than one introduced queen is a good indication that there is a queen in the hive.
My approach would be to get the help of someone who is good at spotting a queen and go through the hive till you find her and terminate her. Take a frame of eggs or up to 3 day old brood and put that into the ‘hot’ hive so that they will raise a new queen and her off spring should be as calm as the donor hive.
That is providing of course you still have enough of warm weather and drones in your area to mate with her. I would ask your local bee group of an experienced local bee keeper for advice as to if that can happen in your location taking into account your local climate.

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Thanks for the quick reply! Now that they are reduced to one deep, I hope I can find the queen, if she is indeed in there. I’m just wondering why they get so agitated and have that loud, high pitched whining sound if they already have a queen? Maybe she’s failing?

Do you think I can introduce a mated queen to them after terminating the existing one, if I don’t have enough warm weather to have them raise their own?

You’ll know you have a laying worker by the presence of all drone brood in worker comb.

I had to fix a colony like that the other day. I got another brood box, placed a frame of good brood in the middle. I took the old brood box about 30 meters away & replaced it with the new one. Then I shook all of the bees onto the ground before putting the frames without brood back into the new brood box. With the frames containing brood, I broke it all down, before placing only one frame per hive in the middle of the bee clusters in honey supers. The bees will quickly clean them up, before replacing the mess with honey.

Because laying workers haven’t done orientation flights, they can’t find their way back to the hive. Therefore the returning bees will make emergency queens in the new brood frame. An inspection tomorrow should reveal success, hopefully.


Pity your not in Southern California as @Dawn_SD is Queen of the queen spotters.


Sure you can introduce a mated bought queen and she will be accepted and laying within a few days regardless of the climate changing to Autumn.
A noisy hive is a sign that there is usually something upsetting the colony, and it can indicate a failing queen or a queen-less hive, but that is not the only reason for that behavior to happen. I’m still of the opinion that there is a queen in the hive. If you feel she is failing then you simply have to find her and dispatch her. But, and there is a but, does the colony feel she is failing, have you looked on the brood frames for capped queen cells?
Hope that is of help for you and look forward to an update.
@JeffH has given good advice on how to weed out a laying worker and it will work every time.

Thank you for the advice. I’ll try to do an inspection today or tomorrow do see if there is a queen in there, and follow the steps to get rid of the laying workers.

@JeffH, you said to place only one frame in the super. One frame in general, or one brood frame/ together will all the other frames? I hope your inspection reveals success!

Thank you Kat, the frame I added was a brood frame containing lots of fertile eggs (workers) & very young worker larvae. That way the colony can start building emergency queens, provided the laying workers don’t make it back.

It’s important, in recognizing a laying worker activity to make sure that there is no sealed workers in the comb. If you see sealed workers, as well as sealed drones in worker comb, then you would have a failing queen. Don’t mistake lots of drones in drone comb for a laying worker.

If you see all worker brood in worker comb, with all drones in drone comb, then you have a good functioning queen. The only issue you could have in that case, could be too much drone comb.

Good luck with your inspection.


Hi Kat, my inspection 7 days ago only revealed the start of one queen cell, however an inspection yesterday revealed a lot more sealed queen cells. So my strategy worked.

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