How Long Will A Beehive Survive Without A Queen? (Clock’s Ticking!)

how long will a queenless hive survive

The queen bee in a beehive is the focal point for many activities in the hive, including the production of worker bees, drones, and other queens when necessary. 

What will happen to the hive if the queen dies or does not return from a mating flight? 

How long will the beehive survive without a queen?

How Long Can A Queenless Beehive Survive?

A beehive without a queen will decline quickly and may only survive between 6 and 8 weeks once the queen dies. Therefore, if the remaining bees cannot raise a new queen, the beekeeper must take action as soon as possible to provide a new queen or brood that can be raised as a queen.

The health, strength, and reproduction of a bee colony depend on the function and work done by the queen bee. 

All the bees in a colony have a crucial role to play to survive and thrive, but the role of the queen is pivotal to the colony’s existence.

The world is a dangerous place for insects and bees in particular. Loss of habitat, use of pesticides, and dangers during normal daily hive operations can threaten a bee’s life.

While the queen is usually snugly installed in the hive’s relative safety, circumstances can lead to her premature death.

The queen can die from:

  • illness, 
  • parasites, 
  • an attack from a predator in the hive, 
  • falling prey to another animal during her virgin mating flight (think “birds”)
  • accidents by the beekeeper during hive operations 

Tip: avoid squishing your queen during inspections. And keep an eye out for her every time you visit your hive 🙂 Many beekeepers use an inspection checklist like this to keep tabs on the health of their colonies. This could help you spot a change in situations. (Amazon)

If the worst should happen, what does the queen’s death mean for the continuity of the colony?

Can Bees Survive Without A Queen?

The other bees in the colony will not abandon the hive or suddenly die out if the queen has suffered an untimely demise.

Worker bees, drones, eggs, and larvae in the hive will survive without the queen and may live out their entire lifespan in the colony. However, the colony will not survive once the bees begin to die.

The average lifespan of a worker bee is about 6 weeks in the summer months, and winter workers can survive for about 20 weeks or more.

Drones are typically only present in the hive in the summer months and have a lifespan of 21 to 32 days.

The remaining worker bees will continue to raise any brood or larvae present in the hive at the time of the queen’s demise. If larvae are present of the correct age, 3-days or younger, a new queen can be raised to replace the old queen. 

queen cells on frames

The hive’s future is dismal without a beekeeper’s intervention if no appropriately aged larvae to raise a new queen are present when the queen dies.

The workers and the drones will continue with the normal hive operations without the queen until they begin to die out at the end of their lifespan. Then, with no replacement workers, the colony’s size will dwindle and eventually fail.

Why Do Bees Die Without A Queen?

Bees die without a queen because there is no reproduction to replenish the number of bees in the colony. 

The reigning queen in a hive produces pheromones in the colony that keep the other worker bees calm and suppress the egg-laying ability of the female worker bees.

When the queen is no longer present in the hive, the level of her pheromones begins to drop, which causes distress among the other bees. They sense that all is not well in the colony due to the dropping pheromone levels. The hive goes into a panic without this calming influence.

Queenless colonies are known to be more aggressive, have less defined roles, and diminished operations in the hive. The lack of organization and new workers promotes the rapid deterioration of the bee colony.

As the dead queen’s pheromones drop below a certain level, the female worker bees’ ovaries will become active and start to lay eggs.

These will be unfertilized eggs that will only produce drones, which places further strain on a colony’s resources. A drone does not contribute to work or food production in the colony. His only purpose is to reproduce.

With no new workers being produced and no queen to lay fertile eggs, the colony will dwindle in size and eventually die out.

Will The Bees Stay In A Hive Without A Queen?

One may think it would make sense for bees in a hive with no queen to abandon the hive and join another colony.

But worker bees are not programmed genetically for this behavior. Instead, their typical reaction is to protect the hive and raise the brood.

How Long Will Bees Remain In A Hive With No Queen

The remaining bees will not leave their colony and merge with another colony nearby, especially if brood or larvae are still present in the comb.

The worker bees will continue to take care of the hive as best they can and carry on running their hive until they die out. 

There’s no question of them abandoning the ship!

Will Bees Abscond Without A Queen?

Similarly, absconding is not typical behavior for a queenless bee colony. Instead, there are several reasons a colony would leave a hive, including reproduction and migration.

But a colony will generally abscond due to untenable situations such as a beekeeper’s continual disturbance of the hive, predators, or pests.

To learn more about why bees will swarm and leave a hive, you can view our article “Will Bees Swarm Without A Queen?”

How Long Should I Leave A Hive Queenless?

A bee hive will begin to decline immediately once a queen dies. If there is brood that can be raised into a new queen, this process will take at least 16 days to produce the new queen, and it will take another 7 days for her to complete her mating flights and begin laying eggs.

This timeframe is beyond the lifespan of the oldest bees in the colony, which would already be dying out. It will take a further 20 days for the eggs to develop into adult workers.

By this time, many workers are reaching the end of their life cycle, and the number of productive bees in the colony will be meager, weakening the colony significantly.

This delay in raising a new queen to produce new workers can make or break the survival of a colony. As a beekeeper, you must take action immediately when you notice a queenless hive to minimize the colony’s degradation. 

You will have about a week to address the problem of a queenless hive and take action to save it. Beyond this timeframe, the odds will be against you being able to rescue the colony.

You have a couple of options to remedy the problem of a queenless hive:

  • Buy a new queen. A new queen can be purchased from beekeepers specializing in queen rearing. This reduces the delay in producing worker bees by at least 16 days.
  • Place a brood frame in the queenless hive. Take a brood frame from your other beehives with eggs ready to hatch, and place it in the queenless beehive. The worker bees will raise a replacement queen from the eggs in the frame.

Suppose you only noticed the queenless state of the hive late into the colony’s decline. In that case, you can add frames with capped worker brood to the stricken beehive from one of your other hives to boost the worker bee population. This will buy some time by providing a fresh batch of workers while they raise a new queen.

Conclusion

A queenless hive is in danger of dying unless they can raise a new queen or a beekeeper takes action to make the colony queenright again.

The clock is ticking for the queenless hive the moment the queen dies. The chances of the bees surviving diminish with each passing day. If the colony does not get a new queen, it will die out in the space of about 6 to 8 weeks.

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