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Laying Workers

We often receive calls and messages about missing (or dead) queens that have turned into laying worker situations. These individuals have been told to shake out their colonies away from the hive, but no one has explained to them why they are doing this. Can't they just re-queen?

Let us explain.

A colony that has lost its queen (for whatever reason) but did not have eggs less than 36 hours old, cannot rear a new queen. If a beekeeper did not catch the loss of queen soon enough, and did not introduce a new queen, worker bees will re-activate their ovaries and lay eggs. The eggs you see will be on the side of the cell, not the bottom of the cell because the worker is not long enough to reach. The laying pattern will also have several eggs in one cell. In addition, the eggs laid will not be fertilized and only become drones (male bees) not worker bees (female bees). This colony will die without intervention.

These laying workers are the youngest bees in the colony. Only nurse bees can re-activate their ovaries. Foragers can't. Due to this, they have not left the hive yet or completed orientation flights. This is why beekeepers are told to shake out their hives 20+ feet away before trying to introduce a new queen.

The laying workers will kill a queen introduced to their colony while their ovaries are activated. In order for this intervention to work, a beekeeper must take the hive 20+ feet away from where it is usually located. Once there they must shake and brush all the bees off all of the frame, out of the hive, ect. All of the bees have to be out to ensure all of the laying workers are gone. Once done, the hive body can go back to where it is usually set up.

Within a short period of time, all of the foragers (those that have completed orientation flights) will return to the hive. The laying workers, having never done this, will not be able to return and will die. After a day or so, a new queen can be introduced. If they accept this new queen, this colony has been saved.

There are other ways to handle laying worker situations, but they require more time and far more resources.

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