Queenless Hives (What To Do To Save Your Bees!)

queenless hives

The queen bee is the pivotal individual that determines the rise and fall of the colony. 

Yep… She’s pretty important!

So monitoring the queen’s health is vital for beekeepers. 

One of the things you need to know is what action to take when you find a hive queenless. 

So how can you tell a beehive is queenless, and what measures can you take to save the colony? 

Let’s find out…

Queenless Hive Symptoms And Behavior

A queenless hive is doomed unless the beekeeper takes steps to re-queen the colony or merge it with a queen-right beehive. However, the best method to save the colony will depend on the time of year and how long it has been without a queen.

The queen bee is crucial for a healthy, thriving beehive. But, unfortunately, the converse is also true; the colony will not survive without the queen.

This consequence makes monitoring the queen-right status of your colonies an essential aspect of beekeeping

The sooner you notice a colony is queenless, the better chance you have to take corrective steps to re-queen. So, understanding the symptoms and signs that indicate a colony is without a queen gives you time to choose and implement one of the various methods of saving your bees. 

How Do You Know If Your Beehive Is Queenless?

Firstly, regular hive inspections provide early detection of problems, especially queenlessness.

The following symptoms and behavior can alert beekeepers that the colony is missing a queen and steps must be taken.

Some symptoms are noticeable from outside the hive, while others require opening up for inspection. 

You should always check for signs of no queen each time you open the hive. It’s a good habit to get into!

  1. A Drop in the number of worker bees. If you notice a drop in the number of worker bees and a lower traffic volume in and out of the hive, the colony may be queenless. Further inspection should be performed.
  2. No eggs and no brood. If you open the hive and find brood but no eggs, the queen is no longer laying. Eggs hatch in 3 days, so larvae with no eggs mean that the beehive has been queenless for at least 3 days.
  3. Increased honey stores in the brood frames. Bees previously tasked with taking care of eggs and larvae will busy themselves with other hive chores, such as building more honey stores, since there are no eggs or larvae to take care of. Honey stores where eggs or larvae should be located signify that the hive is queenless.
  4. Poor brood pattern. Queen bees are generally very organized in how they lay eggs, creating a good brood pattern on the frames. Random brood patterns could suggest that the queen is dead and workers have started laying eggs.
  5. Multiple eggs in a cell or eggs on the sides of cell walls. The queen has a more extended abdomen than worker bees which allows her to deposit eggs at the bottom of the egg cell. If a worker lays eggs, they are often positioned on the sidewall of the cell. Multiple eggs in an egg cell is a sure indication the hive is queenless and workers have begun laying.
  6. An Increase in drone numbers. A significant increase in the number of drones in the hive is a cause for concern. Female worker bees can only lay unfertilized eggs, which produce drones. Increased drone numbers do not always indicate no queen, but you should check for other symptoms to corroborate your suspicion. If the hive is queenless, it has been without a queen for at least 2 weeks, and the situation is dire!

Is A Queenless Hive More Aggressive?

Some beekeepers report that a queenless hive is additionally aggressive and irritable. This symptom could indicate “queenlessness” but can also result from other issues. For example, the queen has aggressive qualities, which she has passed on to her offspring, or the hive has become “Africanized.”

Bees also become feisty during peak nectar flows when they have more resources to defend. Not all queenless hives display more aggressive behavior. Still, if you see this in your colony, it would be wise to check for other symptoms.

What To Do About A Queenless Hive?

When you notice your bee colony is queenless, it’s essential to kick your plan into gear to remedy the situation as soon as possible if the colony is to be saved.

There are several methods beekeepers use to re-queen beehives. The mode you choose is often determined by how long the colony has been missing a queen.

So Should You Add Brood To A Queenless Hive?

One of the best methods to re-queen a hive, if the colony has only been without a queen for a week or more, is to add a brood frame to the brood box from one of your other beehives.

Take a brood frame out of one of your other strong colonies and check that it has both brood and eggs. 

The worker bees in the colony will realize there is no queen in the hive as her pheromone levels begin to drop inside the hive. This takes about 3 days to take effect, which is a pivotal time to introduce a frame with brood and eggs to the colony.

The realization that the colony is queenless will prompt the bees to raise one or more eggs in the replaced frame to be a queen.

The existing brood in the frame will boost the number of worker bees in the colony to allow the collection of resources to continue.

Can You Combine A Queenless Hive?

The number of worker bees may be severely reduced if the colony has been without a queen for two weeks or more.

These bees may not have the ability nor the time to raise a new queen if a brood frame is introduced. Therefore, an alternative approach to save the remaining bees is combining them with an existing one.

This process must be done carefully to reduce fighting among the bees. However, the procedure is relatively simple and has reasonable success rates if the combination method is followed correctly.

You will need the following equipment.

  • Your bee smoker.
  • A spray bottle with a 3:1 water to sugar solution.
  • A sheet of newspaper.

The stronger hive with the queen will be the base of the combined colony. Open both beehives and smoke them heavily to keep the bees calm.

Spray the bees in both hives lightly with the sugar water solution. This action keeps the bees occupied cleaning the sugar water solution off each other, and the grooming process helps the bees to accept each other.

Place the sheet of newspaper on top of the strong colony box. Cut two or three slits in the newspaper to allow pheromones and hive scent to pass through.

Place the weaker, queenless colony box on top of the newspaper. The bees will take a few days to eat through the newspaper, by which time they will accept each other.

Will A Queenless Hive Raise A New Queen?

an uncapped queen cell

Bees will only raise a new queen if they already have queen cells with eggs or have viable eggs of the right age. Eggs take 3 days to hatch, so the bees can build an emergency queen cell around fresh eggs and raise one or more queens from these fertilized eggs.

If there are no eggs in the brood frames, you can introduce a brood frame from one of your other hives, and the bees will raise a new queen from these eggs.

Queenless Hives In Spring

Suppose you find your bee colony to be queenless in the spring. In that case, the colony stands a good chance for survival since it is at the beginning of the productive season.

Introduce a frame with eggs and brood from one of your other colonies so the bees can raise a new queen.

Queenless Hives In The Fall

On the other hand, a queenless hive in the fall is difficult to re-queen since the colony is preparing for the winter and may need more time to raise the queen before winter sets in.

The best option to save the queenless colony at this time of year is to combine it with a queen-right beehive.

So, To Sum Up

A queenless beehive means a colony in trouble. It’s your job to take action if the bees are to be saved.

The sooner, the better 🙂

If re-queening is not an option, the only way to save your precious bees will be to merge them with another queen-right colony.

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