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.
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.
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.
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.
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.