Pollen cells filled with eggs from laying worker bees.
Pollen cells filled with eggs from laying worker bees.

Laying Workers In Package Bees?

Laying Workers in Package Bees? Yes, it happened. But it shouldn’t.

Upon inspecting one of my newly installed packages last week to check for eggs,  I came across this lovely sight – not one, not two, but multiple eggs per cell. Some cells had only a few eggs and some were overflowing with 7 or more eggs. Eggs were on top of pollen and bee bread. Eggs were on the cell walls, the center of the cells, the sides of the cells and off center. The bees laying eggs here were indiscriminate. This was more than a new queen gone rogue, this was a sign of laying workers.

Multiple eggs per cell a sign of laying workers.

Multiple eggs per cell is a sign of laying workers.

This was especially surprising since this hive of bees started from a new package install just two weeks prior. The queen in this hive was alive when she was installed, her candy plug was chewed out and she was released a few days later. She did not make it much farther than that because either the hive had laying workers in the package to begin with (which could mean the package was shook from a queenless or laying worker hive, which should not happen) and the laying workers killed her or she died of her own volition and laying workers started laying, albeit relatively early. What are laying workers? For a tutorial click here.

Eggs on pollen.

Eggs on pollen.

One frame, filled with mostly pollen had supercedure cells on it. Although laying workers can make a viable queen every once in a while, this is extremely rare and hardly ever happens.

Supercedure cells on a frame of pollen.

Supercedure cells on a frame of pollen.

My favorite observation of the day was looking inside the queen cells. Look at all those eggs! I wonder how many drones they can jam pack inside there? Poor desperate bees.

Queen cell with multiple eggs.

Queen cell with multiple eggs. A desperate attempt by laying workers to make a queen.

I decided to try to Michael Bush’s method of saving this hive by giving them a frame of open brood, once a week for three weeks. The pheromones from the open brood should suppress the laying workers and then I will requeen them after 3 weeks with a mated queen.  I prefer to let the bees raise their own queen but it is far too early here for them to make a queen themselves, drone production has not started yet and the new queen will be poorly mated, if she even gets mated at all.

Have you had laying workers in your apiary?  How have you dealt with it? Let me know in the comments below.

Update: This colony did not respond to giving it brood frames for 4 weeks.  After strengthening this colony by giving it more brood, I ended up weakening my strong colonies and creating more laying worker bees. While this method may work for some colonies, when it fails, it is epic.  I ended up combining this hive using the newspaper method with a queen right hive, which solved the problem almost immediately and is the only method I would recommend for treating laying workers.

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Author: Anita Deeley

Anita Deeley is a biologist who maintains 30 honey bee hives. She is the beekeeper, writer, owner and creator of BeverlyBees.com. When she is not spending time with her girls (the bees), she enjoys being a wife to her beekeeping cohort, Brian and mother to 3 little boys (the beekeepers in training). Read more about Anita here >>
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6 Comments

  1. I was looking for a web site that would tell me how to re-queen a queen less bee hive. I just did my three week inspection of my packaged bees and I could not find any capped bees, I did see lots of capped honey and lots of honey not capped, I saw no drones and I saw what looked like two supercedure cells and what looked like two totally black drone or queens, what I observed it looked like the workers made two queen cells but all they have now are two unfertilized queens, if you want to call them that. I have heard of some ways on how you can re-queen a hive without getting a store bought queen. One is to bring over from another hive some capped brood and drone in hopes that the drones will fertilize the unfertilized queen, if its possible?

    • Unmated or virgin queens will leave the hive to go on a mating flight. They find an area called a drone congregation zone, where the drones from nearby hives will be hanging out waiting for the queen to come. This is where she mates, so you do not need to bring in frames of drones to get your queen mated. You do need to make sure you have a queen though, and not just drones. You can see what a queen looks like here – http://www.beverlybees.com/new-swarm-hive-milkweed-spot-queen/. If you have a queenless hive, you can bring over frames of eggs and young brood and let the bees raise their own queen. Good luck!

  2. Hi Anita,

    I started two colonies from packages April 5th, they are both now queenless. I only have these two colonies, so tomorrow I am going to try combing these two colonies using the newspaper method. I will then introduce two deep frames of brood and a new queen. I’m following methods outlined in “First Lessons In Beekeeping”, but I was wondering if you had any advice to add.

    I appreciate your time!

    • Hi Chase,

      Sorry to hear about your bees. Your idea sounds good, try to make sure you have older open brood and capped brood on the brood frames and not eggs or young larvae or the bees may try to make their own queen instead of the one you are giving them. It is a good idea to add the brood, even if it is young brood, the hive will need new nurse bees to take care of the bees the new queen will lay. Good luck!

  3. Hello, I have a hive with laying workers, introduced a mated queen ,in a cage but the workers killed her, so as now it’s a bit late in the season I’m going to amalgamate with the newspaper method, is that all I can do as the hive is weak and be prone to wasp attack even with wasp traps