Drone Laying Queens - by Tamsin Harris
By now many of us will have had a chance to give our hives their first quick inspection of the season but how many of us have been disappointed with what we've found?
I was certainly very disappointed when I inspected a colony that went into winter on a double brood box full of bees and stores and found that the queen had become a drone layer, laying only eggs that would hatch into male drones.
This was very apparent by the raised cappings on the brood and numerous stunted drones crawling over the comb. The queen had laid eggs in worker cells but these had hatched in to drone larvae who developed as normal, much too large for worker cells, hence the raised cappings.
This is the first sign that shows that the queen has become a drone layer. Also the presence of emerged drones, in quantity, this early in the season is a sure sign that something is amiss.
So what is to be done? How can this situation be rectified?
Having more than one colony helps immensely, as in most tricky situations that arise in beekeeping. My solution was to cull the useless queen, remove the two frames of drone brood and unite this colony, using the newspaper method, to the adjacent queenright hive. I was in a fortunate position as there were still a good quantity of worker bees left to be of use to the adjacent hive. By removing the useless, stunted drone brood I was also able to remove any varroa that potentially may have been breeding in those sealed drone cells.
It's a different scenario if you only have one colony, then the chances of saving the remaining worker bees are quite low. Obtaining an overwintered nuc and following the above mentioned procedure is one option. Obtaining a frame of eggs and larvae from a fellow beekeeper and popping them into the hive, after removing all the frames of drone brood so there are no chances of the bees trying to make queen cells from their own queens' eggs or larvae, is another option. You may be lucky and they manage to raise a queen cell and rear the already laid brood but the chances of a virgin queen getting mated are very low this early in the season. This method will possibly keep the colony ticking over until you can obtain a nuc or another colony but most likely it is a hopeless situation.
Having two colonies of bees is always preferable as there are so many situations when one can act as a donor of eggs to the other. If you only have one colony then make 2021 the year that you raise a nuc or collect a swarm and hopefully avoid that hopeless situation!