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What happens if a worker lays eggs?


Continuing the discussion from Where is My Queen?:

Are worker eggs viable? Will they hatch?


Only drones, which in large numbers are not healthy for the long term future of the colony.


The eggs will hatch but the colony will fail.


Some eggs will hatch and some undersized drones will emerge. These drones are actually sexually viable. The colony will fail. It is important to know that introducing a queen to the colony will also fail as the bees will kill her thinking they have a queen already. Laying worker ovaries will are suppressed by brood pheromone so adding a frame of open brood may work but you often have to add more than one. Maybe three or four in succession.


Hi Rod, all we need to do with a queenless hive is simply insert a frame of brood with fertile eggs, you can add more than one if you have them & importantly if the hive has enough workers to cope with more than one frame. The main reason for not adding too many frames of brood is so beetle cant breed up on the unprotected brood. It’s best to add say, one frame per week, making sure those frames have plenty of brood ready to hatch as well as some new fertile eggs. If the hive has a laying worker, be aware that she wont live long anyway, so by adding those frames of brood, the bees will make a new queen eventually. With the hatching brood from the frames you inserted, the colonies population will increase nicely. I call this method my “divine intervention strategy”. Without that strategy, as you say, the hive is doomed. The bees make lots of drones in the event of a hive going queenless with no chance of making a new one simply so that one or more of those drones may get lucky & pass on that hives genes.


You make some very good points Jeff, especially “If the hive has a laying worker, be aware that she wont live long”, very true. So this issue is fortunately a short term one. I have not had the experience of a laying worker so I cannot speak from experience however I was shown recently how to isolate her from the colony. This is done by shaking out all the bees several metres away, the foragers and older bees will find their way back to the hive and the laying worker or workers will not. You will lose some bees, but the hive is doomed regardless so what have you got to lose. Next step is to order or get a new queen and finally scratch the cappings off all the capped drone cells as you don’t need extra mouths to feed in a diminished colony.


Thanks Rod, there’s no need to order a new queen or try to isolate the laying worker, but certainly scratch the tops off the drone larvae, if there’s a lot of drone larvae, I remove those frames & redo them with fresh foundation, always keeping shb in mind. A strong healthy hive will support a weak queenless hive for quite a few weeks by taking out a frame of brood, especially sealed brood once a week, strengthening the weak hive & maintaining the strength of the strong hive. That is a kind of swarm control strategy for the strong hive. The weak hive will make a new queen by natural selection, which in a lot of cases is better than a bought one. After a couple of months, if the conditions are still right you might be able to make a nice third hive nuc by combining 2-3 frames of brood & bees from each hive. That’s the way to go.



If the “egg police” don’t get to them first and remove them, they will hatch. If they are fed and capped etc. they will emerge and be viable drones. In a normal queenright hive 0.0007% of the bees are laying workers (Ratnieks 1993; see also Visscher 1995a and discussion on page 9 of Wisdom of the Hive by Thomas Seeley). Normally the “egg police” keep up and remove those if they are in worker cells. They may leave them if they are in drone cells. If you get a queenless hive that gets taken over by laying workers the egg police will reach the point where they can no longer keep up and then you see the dozens of eggs in a cell. These are still viable.


Hi @Michael_Bush, would love to hear your advice on the Laying worker/s and from your experience what is a method to successfully bring the hive back under the control of a viable queen.


The page I linked to has a lot of information and methods that I’ve tried and a list of any that worked at all. But basically, if you don’t have queen cells available, I would do one of two things. If it’s nearby (in the back yard, on the way to work etc.) I’d put a frame of open brood in every week for three weeks. This suppresses the laying workers (because it’s not queen pheromones that suppress laying workers, it’s brood pheromones) and when they laying workers are suppressed enough they will start queen cells. Or, if three trips is too much work and driving, I would move the entire colony a ways from where the rest of the hives are and shake all the bees on the ground and give the boxes to the other hives. You can do a split later to make up the loss. Now if you have queen cells, I’d just put a queen cell in and see what happens. It works often enough to be worth a try.


Visiting this topic…long story short one of my hives became queenless…inspection revealed no brood…next inspection revealed spotty DRONE brood…so here is the plan…first I took a frame of brood from other hive to replenish bees but they hatched without a superceedure queen…so ordered a new queen (finally located one after a week of contacting sources to no avail) arriving tomorrow. Cold weather dissipating so a good day to work this hive.

I am going to introduce the new queen with a push in cage. I had a frame of drawn comb and honey in freezer. made the cage and pushed it in snuggly into frozen comb. This will reduce chance of bees chewing through comb to get inside the cage. Adding a picture.

What I would like is advice…should I ALSO shake out the bees? From what I read once the queen starts to lay her pheromone and that of the fresh eggs will overtake the weak pheromone of the laying workers…

Would love input from anyone who has done this process…


If you can, I would put the push in cage on another frame of capped worker brood on the verge of emerging, with some honey under the cage too. Newly emerged workers (nurse bees) are very receptive to just about any queen, and they will feed her as well as pass her pheromones around the hive.

I would prefer to add frames of brood every week rather than try to introduce a queen, unless you are in an Africanized region. Failing that, then yes, I would shake out all the bees at least 30 feet away from the hive.


Thanks Dawn! That makes sense… When I checked my other hive it only had 1 frame of brood which was about a week ago…Our weather has been very wet and very cold so our bees in Alabama are building up slow…HOPE this last series of storms and freezing temps were the last…

On the shake out, rather than ‘either or’ I was wondering should I shake them out AND add new queen?


I would if you are putting the queen in there. The laying workers behave a bit like real queens and the colony will try to kill any competing queen. If the hive has been queenless for a significant amount of time (weeks), it is unlikely that there will be just one laying worker. You need to get rid of them all for the colony to accept the new queen. Even then, they probably won’t accept the new queen until there is uncapped worker brood in the hive. It is open, uncapped worker brood which produces the correct pheromones to suppress laying workers. Until you have that in your hive, they will probably reject a new queen.

If your requeening doesn’t work, I would suggest combining your queenless hive with your other hive, using the newspaper method. I would use a double layer of paper. Then in a month or two, you could order another queen and make a nucleus from your merged hive with the new queen. You can then work back up to 2 hives in the same season. :blush:

If you are looking for good queens in the US at this time of year, both Big Island Queens and Olivarez Honey Bees have them. https://www.ohbees.com/collections/big-island-queens
You may need to call, as their online calendar ordering system doesn’t always work, but they are extremely helpful.


Yes, that would be my last resort…to merge them …just curious…before merging them, could I ‘shake out’ some workers from my good hive being careful to NOT shake the queen, into a Nuc and THEN newspaper in the queenless hive? Why would I need to wait a month? By the way, I really APPRECIATE you taking the time to help me think this through…


You could, but if your good hive has only just started laying, I would be cautious about weakening it at this point in the season. It is better to have one strong hive, than 2 weak hives, even at the risk of losing a purchased queen. They build up exponentially if they have a decent population. They can dwindle rapidly if they are off-balance and the weather is still fickle.

To give your good hive time to build up enough population to spare 3 to 5 frames of brood and food.

My pleasure, truly. Thank you for the appreciation. :blush:


What does shaking the bees out do


The thought is that laying workers have never been outside of the hive so shaking them out far away leaves them lost never to return.


My understanding is similar to @Red_Hot_Chilipepper’s. Shaking out the nurse bees seems pretty standard advice in the US, and even appears in Beekeeping for Dummies as a way of dealing with a queenless hive. I far prefer the frame of open brood method though. I don’t think the shaking out approach is anywhere near as successful.

I am not convinced that laying workers have never been outside the hive, however. They may not have been far, but as it takes a week or two for their ovarioles to develop, they must have made cleansing flights. I don’t think even nurse bees can hold their waste for a couple of weeks! :blush:


In Minnesota they hold their waste for 4 months lol