When is it too late to add a mated queen to save a queenless colony?

As the title asks, when is it too late to add a mated queen to a queenless colony?

My thinking is that there will need to be some capped brood at least (and this may need to be newly capped brood) for the young bee population (less than 7 days) needed to be able to produce royal jelly to feed the upcoming new generation of worker larvae (worker jelly).

Does anyone have a rule for this that they follow?

Note that I would love to give this colony a frame of capped brood but this isn’t available.

When the colony has laying workers, it is definitely too late. If it has been queenless for more than 4 weeks, it may be too late, but I might still try.

As you know, a frame of brood would always be my optimal choice for several reasons:

  1. If there are laying workers, the pheromone from open brood will start to suppress their ovarioles. That will dissuade the colony from attacking any introduced queen
  2. If the colony starts making queen cells on the frame of brood, it is far more likely that an introduced queen will be accepted
  3. The newly emerged bees from the introduced frame will be in great shape to feed and groom the introduced queen

Just wanted to make that clear for anyone who has not read it before. :blush:


Queen Dawn, thank you!

Lovely insights. Yes, always great to outline it all for the purpose of mass learning :slight_smile:


Hi Bianca, I have no rule to follow, except that I haven’t purchased a new queen for at least 12 years. I just give the colony a frame of brood in all stages. That way they have eggs for making a queen if they need to. Plus they have emerging bees that will produce royal jelly.

I must confess to have not worried too much about the age of the bees in the past, when doing this type of thing, it always works out in the end. However I did read recently that it takes 200 nurse bees to produce one queen. Having said that, we can understand why one colony will only produce one or 2 emergency queens, while another will produce lots of them. It’s all relative to how many nurse bees are in the colony.

PS. I’m assuming that the hive is a long way from your apiary & you don’t want to chill the brood during transport.
I have a couple of suggestions based on an observation I made. I found that sealed brood doesn’t succumb to chilling the way open brood does, therefor it should travel well.

One option would be to take a split containing the brood you need, accompanied with nurse bees to keep it warm. Then all you need to do is shake all the nurse bees onto the ground, after removing & placing the brood frame. Then you can let the nurse bees march into the entrance, where they’ll be readily accepted. If it’s a Flow2 with legs, you’ll need to make a platform to line up with the entrance, instead of shaking the bees onto the ground.

Thanks Jeff. Nice idea and yes I was wondering that about capped brood.

How do the guard bees know they’re nurse bees again (I know I’ve read this technique before)?

To give more context O’ll explain what happened. someone’s hive after swarmed and when I inspected (3 days ago), there was no eggs and no queen (I didn’t see one). With my rough calculations the new (second) queen was due back from her mating flight within the last few days. I inspected it again today and found eggs so the queen finally came back, but, there was no brood at all and no honey.

The nurse bees that produce the royal jelly are super young, like younger than 10 days right? But as you kind of say Jeff, the colony seem to pull it together somehow and perhaps their roles and physical abilities are plastic and not always dependent on pheromones. This colony decided to after swarm (and so do many others and multiple times) so they must know that they can pull it off. Even if just…

The beekeeper had caught the first swarm which had a mated queen and some brood and honey so I pinched one of their frames for them.

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Shake the bees onto the ground. The older bees will fly back to their hive, leaving the nurse bees on the ground, they will form a cluster. Put a nuc box with the lid on, and a frame of brood inside, next to the cluster, and they will all go straight in. It is pretty to watch.
Jeff does it to impress people if he thinks there are not enough bees in a nuc he is selling. I love watching it happen and never get sick of seeing it.
You will have to repeat this when you get to the other end to get the bees into the receiving hive.
Jeff also likes doing it this way as it is gentle and they go into the front door. Sometime they are a bit slow if it is a new box, but they will suddenly move. It is amazing to watch.

PS @Bianca I got this strategy recently via a video that @Semaphore shared. It has simplified my beekeeping, for sure.

The knowledge that nurse bees will be readily accepted, wont fight each other, wont kill a queen (as far as I know), you can mix nurse bees from different colonies is revolutionary.

Basically the beekeeping world is our oyster. Maybe we should keep it a secret :slight_smile:


Hi again Bianca, for some reason this reply didn’t show up on Wilma’s phone last night. She only just now brought it to my attention.

Thanks for clarifying what happened.

I have had the impression over time that bees roles & abilities are somewhat elastic, as compared to native bees. I made that comparison a while back, when I realized that native bees roles & abilities are static.