Discovering that you have a queenless hive is quite an upsetting set of circumstances. Not only has all of the money you spend on honeybees just gone down the drain, your fruit grove, or garden just lost its pollinators.
While you might think a queenless hive would be both quickly and easily to spot, that surely is not always the case. A honeybee hive without a queen can present with quite subtle changes at first and be rather difficult to diagnose – especially for beekeeping newbies.
If your hive is “queenright”, it will have a brood cell with one tiny little white bee egg in each cell. A hive experiencing queenlessness may still have a few developing bees in a brood cell, but the quantity will dwindle and not be replaced if a queen has died or flown away from a hive colony.
It can take weeks for a queenless hive to completely collapse. Knowing what signs and sounds to watch for on a daily basis can help you realize the queen is dead before it is too late to save the colony.
Technically, as long as you are able to place a new brood filled honeycomb into the hie every week or two, the rest of the colony members may stick around to tend to it.
But, you would have to possess another hive that was robust and healthy enough to do this and it would not be sustainable for long.
If you get lucky using this old beekeeper’s trick, there may be enough time to introduce a new queen into a queenless hive before the remaining colony members swarm away.
It would require one to two frames of either emerging or capped brood to even have a chance at sustaining an active and queenless colony before it reaches a point of decline that it would not come back from without the introduction of a new queen or the emergence of a virgin queen bee.
What Does A Queenless Hive Sound Like?
One of the first ways that you might notice a queen is no longer present in the hive is a difference in the sounds you hear when approaching the hive.
A queenless hive will typically cause the drone and worker bees inside to become nervous, anxious, and irritable. A sound that is akin to a high-pitched whine that is mixed with a low sounding roar can sometimes be heard.
Even if you do not hear this odd mixture of sounds coming from a honeybee hive, it could still be queenless. The sound can be difficult to distinguish, even for veteran beekeepers.
Will Bees Bring Pollen To A Queenless Hive?
Yes, usually … at least for a little while. Honeybees in a queenless hive collect pollen out of habit to satisfy their natural desire to provide for the hive.
The bees will go on foraging daily to collect pollen and nectar just as they would if living in a queenright hive – until a new queen arrives or emerges from brood or they give up on the queenless hive and swarm away.
Beware of the Signs
Honeybees will continue to make comb even after the queen becomes ill or dies – for usually a week or maybe two.
It is possible that when you do the typical once a week check on the hive, to still see honeycomb (beautiful and healthy white comb) still being made even after your queen is no longer alive.
Take note (or even take a photo) of the amount of honeycomb your queenright hive is making so you can easily and quickly compare it to the amount of comb production during your weekly hive checks.
The difference in comb production could be slight or substantial, but knowing how much honeycomb is regularly produced when you are certain a queen is active and present, can help you determine if the production is off, when she is not.
There is almost always a small cluster of honey bees hovering around the hive entrance from not long after dawn to a little prior to dusk. Pay careful attention to the number of bees in the cluster when the hive has a present and healthy queen.
The number of bees clustering around the entrance will diminish or disappear when the queen is no longer alive. The bees making up the cluster may also look and sound far more agitated than normal once the queen has perished.
In the few weeks that you have to correct a queenless hive, the number of bees present in the hive will likely decrease. Because there is no longer a queen bee to lay eggs, there will not be new bees emerging to replace dying workers.
There will usually first be less nurse bees in the hive because there is no brood to cultivate, but eventually the number of worker bees will dwindle, as well.
Brood Egg Reduction
The honeybee queen is the only bee in the entire colony that can lay fertilized worker bee eggs. Once the queen is gone, it will be the lack of worker bee brood eggs that you should notice first.
The longer the hive is attempting to function without a queen, the fewer capped brood (bee larvae) will exist. Every single day that a hive goes without a healthy and functioning queen, the population of the colony will start to decrease due to the short life cycle of worker and drone bees.
Increase In Honey Production
In what may seem like an odd twist of fate, a hive that is queenless will produce more honey than it did when a queen was healthy or alive – for a while.
Because there is no mating to do or brood to tend to, the remaining bees busy themselves with collecting pollen and making copious amounts of honey. The hive imbalance usually causes a lot more foraging and food storing chores among the remaining members of the colony.
Queen Replacement And Cups Development
A queenless hive almost always tries to create a replacement queen. It is not unusual to see the development of a queen cup (queen cell) inside the colony.
But, simply because you find a queen cup that does not mean you are dealing with a queenless hive. Colonies are prone to creating queen cups for a variety of reasons.
Yet, when you see a queen cup inside of the hive AND also notice a distinct lack of brood being developed, that is a pretty solid sign that you no longer have a queenright hive.
Look carefully at the queen cup to see if it is empty, showing signs of growing or hatching, and to determine if it is actually capped. If these signs are present, the colony is most likely queenless and in the process of attempting to hatch a new queen.
Worker Bees Laying Honey Bee Eggs
Once a hive has become queenless for too long, the worker bees will start laying eggs. Once this type of activity occurs, it is incredibly to save the hive and make it queenright again. If worker bees are laying eggs they generally place more than one egg in each comb cell.
A honeybee colony with laying worker bees almost always attacks and kills and new queen bee you attempt to introduce – or is hatched. At this stage of queenlessness in a hive, even seasoned beekeepers usually decide the colony is a loss and cleans out the hive.
How Long Before A Virgin Queen Starts Mating?
If you caught the queenlessness of a hive early enough and are introducing a new queen to attempt to make it queenright again, you have about six days from the time she arrives/matures before mating flights begin to take place.
The new queen usually mates with about 10 drones in a short amount of time. About two to three days after beginning the mating ritual, the first eggs should start to appear.
Can You Start A Beehive With Just A Queen?
A honeybee hive can be started with just a mated queen. The queen will eventually die, but you now have the makings of a new hive that a virgin queen can emerge from in the near future.
Still, this is a slow process and one that has to be expertly times in order to save the hive and make it queenright once again. Place a new nuc of bees into the hive to get it working properly. Again, thisthe best and quickest way to save a hive that has gone from queenright to queenless.
Should you be fortunate enough to catch the queenlessness in the early stages and have another hive to pull a frame of brood from, placing it in the failing hive may naturally and quickly salvage the colony.
If the bees in the hive start to build queen cells on the brood, they are well on the way back from the brink of disaster.