What Happens When the Queen Bee Dies?
If Your Hive is Queenless too Long, a Laying Worker Bee Will Emerge
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Perry and Beverly Riley – Raising honeybees is a challenge. One day your hive looks good and a few days later you wonder if it’s going to live. There are all kinds of diseases—foulbrood, nosema, etc. and pests—mites, hive beetles, wax moths, etc., that can weaken a hive. Sometimes a hive becomes weak because it lost its queen and eventually the bees will die. So what happens when the queen bee dies? If they are queenless too long a worker may start laying. Since she is not fertile she will only lay drone eggs. You can tell if you have a laying worker because all the brood cells will be drone cells. You will know they are drone cells because all the cells will be raised rather than flat. They will not be in a solid pattern but will be scattered throughout the frame. When this happens, you will see the honey bee population decline because there are no worker bees being produced.
When you have a hive that has become queenless, it is possible to save the hive if you catch it in time. If it is so weak that wax moths have taken the hive over, it is almost impossible to save. Before that time there is a relatively good chance of saving the hive. In order for the hive to make brood they have to keep the inside of the hive 95°F. If you have a hive with two deep hive bodies and a honey super on it, the bees will have declined in number and there may not be enough bees to keep it warm. The bees will need to be crowded. Therefore, you should remove the honey super and you may even need to remove one deep hive body so that the bees are crowded up enough to keep the hive warm. If it is not warm enough the bees will not make brood.
You can correct this situation by buying a new queen for the hive. A far better solution is to let the bees make their own queen. Bees have been making queens for thousands of years and they can do a lot better job than we can. When they make a new queen, she will have genetics that have adapted to and survived the local climate. They cannot make a queen on their own so you need to help them. You do this by getting a frame that has eggs less than three days old from another hive. Insert this frame with eggs into your queenless hive. They should have a queen cell made within five days. Generally, they will make a queen cell the first time you try. If they do not, you may have to try a second time. When you do this the genes from the queenless hive are dead. All the new genes will come from the hive you took the eggs from and the drones the new queen mates with.
When you have a hive that has a weak queen she must be replaced. To get rid of the old queen you can go through the hive and find her. If you find her, pinch her. This may seem cruel, but it is essential to save the hive. It is sacrificing one to save the multitude.
Sometimes, if the hive is fairly large, it is difficult to find the queen. Don’t spend a lot of wasted time trying to find her. It is very easy to get rid of her and it doesn’t take much time. Simply load the complete hive up in your vehicle and take it 100 yards away. You will need one empty deep hive body and if you have a super on the hive you will need an empty super body. Take each hive body with bees and set them on the ground individually. Leave the hive stand in your vehicle. Place an empty hive body on it. Take each frame from the hive that is now on the ground and brush all the bees off onto the ground. As you finish with a frame, put it in your empty hive body. Frames that have brood have to be destroyed. You can destroy it by letting it set outside or freezing it. This is necessary because we want the hive to realize it is queenless. When you have finished the first hive body, it is now empty and can be placed on top of the hive in the truck and you can repeat the same process until all the bees have been brushed on the ground. You then take the hive back to its original location. This hive will not have any bees in it but the bees will come back and many of them will be there waiting for you. The queen will not be able to come back because she is too heavy with eggs and cannot fly. You have eliminated the queen and now have a queenless hive.
After you get rid of her they will not realize they are queenless for five to seven days, so do not do anything more to the hive. After five to seven days you can treat it as a queenless hive and insert another brood frame with eggs less than three days old.
If a hive has a laying worker and you put a queen in without removing the laying worker, the workers will kill the queen because they have accepted their laying worker as their queen. The laying worker can also be replaced using the same process that was used with the bad queen. She, too, will be heavy and unable to fly back to the hive.
You have a lot of work in getting a hive established and you should do everything you can to keep every hive flourishing. It is the responsibility of the beekeeper to do this.
Now you know what happens when the queen bee dies and you can help your beehive survive the long, dreary days of winter with a new, stronger queen.
Originally published in 2013 and regularly vetted for accuracy.