One of the most frequent reasons why beekeepers lose their colonies is queenlessness. There are numerous ways for a colony to be without a queen and many ways to fix the issue.
A queenless bee is one without a queen who would have died from disease, being killed by the beekeeper or predator, pests, bad weather, or old age. Such hives lack eggs and have fewer bees, vacant queen cells, laying worker bees, more honey than usual, and may act weirdly.
Hives containing a queen are referred to as “queenright,” whereas hives without a queen are “queenless.” Because they are the only bees capable of producing fertilized eggs, queen bees are essential to a colony. Depending on what they are given, fertilized eggs may develop into either worker or queen bees.
What is a queenless hive?
A queenless hive is one without a queen. This can be due to many different causes such as the following:
Although essential to the colony, the queen is much like any other bee in terms of susceptibility to disease and pests. While she has assistance in the form of attendant worker bees, there is never a 100% guarantee that she will withstand all dangers. Disease can kill the queen.
2. A beekeeper accidentally killed the queen
When inspections happen, there is a genuine risk of killing some of the bees including the queen. Extra care should be given when handling frames to reduce the chances of killing the queen.
Hold the frame over the box, for instance, so that if the queen falls from the frame, she falls into the box below. Otherwise, you will only be able to tell if the frame has the queen if you spot her.
The queen can also die from other causes such as pests, bad weather conditions, old age, and others. All of these can lead to colony collapse disorder which, if not corrected on time, can lead to the death of your bee colony as a whole.
How long will a hive survive without a queen?
This differs based on how the queen passed away. For example, how long may have passed between the time the queen died and the moment you first noticed?
If your queen passed away from old age, you might have little time left. In addition, old queens frequently run out of sperm, which results in the final eggs laid being unfertilized.
On the other hand, you have more time if you know precisely how your queen perished, such as if you accidentally crushed her. Then, your hive can function without a queen for about a month while things return to normal.
What are the signs of a queenless hive?
Some of the signs that your hive is without a queen include the following:
1. Lacking eggs
The lack of eggs or brood is the first and most visible indicator of a queenless hive. Laying fertilized worker bee eggs is the queen’s responsibility; she is the only one capable of doing it.
There is no way to misinterpret this; if you don’t observe any eggs or brood, your hive is likely queenless. Constantly look for eggs. Early detection of a lack of eggs and brood generally allows for quick correction before significant damage is done.
2. Low bee population
Bees die naturally daily. It’s an unavoidable reality. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are a poor beekeeper. The issue, though, is that those lost bees in a queenless hive cannot be replenished, even if they passed away naturally.
Unfortunately, it may take some time before the populations of your hives start to decline to the point where you can see them. This implies that it might be too late to take action when you realize your hive is queenless.
3. More Honey
Worker bees who used to be in charge of this duty won’t have a job as there won’t be any brood to take care of. Therefore, you might see larger honey reserves as more bees occupy themselves with foraging.
It’s crucial to remember that this “symptom” can also manifest in colonies with queens. For instance, bees prioritize storing food when there is a large nectar flow and the colony needs more space.
Sometimes, a resourceful group of queenless insects will decide to create their replacement queen. It’s a good indication that your queen has left if you see queen cells without a queen present.
4. Vacant Queen Cells
Queen cells resemble the outside of a recently opened tin can that doesn’t contain any larvae. If the hatched queen cells are visible, but there are no other signs of a queen, you may have a so-called “virgin queen” who has not yet begun to lay eggs.
Although they can be challenging to spot, virgin queens are typically much smaller than real queens.
5. Laying Worker bees
When a hive has been queenless for a while, it might eventually produce some laying workers, which is unusual. Because worker bees are female, they can produce eggs, but they won’t be fertilized like a queen’s. To mate, they never venture outside.
It’s interesting to note that these unfertilized eggs will eventually fully mature and hatch. But they transform into drones.
Given how difficult it is to turn around a colony once it has gone queenless, this is one of the most problematic indicators of a queenless hive. There is a possibility that the colony will reject the queen even if you are successful in introducing her.
6. Additional Behavior
You might observe a change in your hive’s general attitude. All of your bees may become more hostile or maybe merely anxious. Bees may start following you around and stinging people and animals. Your colony may make strange or novel noises like a low rumble or a higher-pitched whine.
Before leaving the hive to seek food, some queenless hives will walk toward the entrance and spread their wings in various directions.
How do I fix a queenless hive?
You can save your hive from dying out with the following actions:
1. Display a young, open brooding frame (or eggs from another hive)
You can let your bees make their queen by giving them a frame of young, open brood or eggs from another hive. If you believe your hive last had a queen a while ago, this technique is not advised because it takes a long time.
A fertilized egg takes three weeks to develop into a worker bee. So, again, we would only advise using this strategy if you believe there has been a queen in a while.
There are a few benefits to this tactic, though. First, a queen bred naturally will have more wild and feral genes, making your colony stronger and healthier.
Additionally, it will maintain the genetic diversity of your colony. This option is also free and requires less time and effort. Finding queens can occasionally be challenging, so this may be your only choice.
2. Purchasing a queen
One of the simplest ways to restore balance to your colony is to purchase and install a queen. Buying a queen is far quicker than waiting for the bees to create their queen from a young breed in a different queen-right colony.
Installing a new queen is much quicker and will instantly get your hive queen right. Remember that the longer your hive operates without a queen, the more likely your workers will begin to produce eggs.
3. Combine a nuc with a queenless hive
It is also possible to merge your queenless hive with a nuc, often known as a “nucleus colony,” This can be challenging if it has developed some aggressive traits. Additionally, you’ll need to set aside some time so the colony can become used to the smell of the queen.
A nuc (nucleus colony) is a small bee colony created from a larger colony, swarm, or package. It’s centered on a queen bee meaning it can be used to start a new large colony.
4. Begin a new colony
Even though you may not want to hear it, sometimes starting afresh and cutting your losses is the best action. The effort to obtain a colony queen right is often not worth it.
Instead, the best course of action may be to start a new colony, particularly if your workers have already begun to produce eggs. Take the honey out of your hive, give it to another colony, and begin again.
Don’t get alarmed if you’ve noticed that your hive is now queenless. Spend some time analyzing your problem thoughtfully. Then, decide which remedies will be the most effective treatment for you.