Quite a title, I know, but that’s what it’s called in the beekeeping world. This weekend, I looked into my colonies and added honey supers as necessary in preparation for the honey flow which starts soon in WV. I mostly found good colonies with healthy queens, good worker build-up, plenty of eggs and larvae, etc. In one hive, I found a problem though.
Sometimes, when a hive loses its queen, the infertile female worker bees sort of change into queen-wannabees. Every hive needs a queen to survive as she is the one which controls the mood of the hive, ensures future bees and generally runs the show. When a colony goes queen-less, all of that falls apart. Something in a number of worker bees triggers and they begin to sort of convert into queen bees. These infertile bees are called laying workers. Their bodies begin producing eggs. Since the aren’t really queens though, they cannot fertilize the eggs and something is just not right about how they roll…they don’t know how to properly lay eggs like a real queen would.
Instead of laying a single fertile egg in the center of each honeycomb, laying workers lay multiple eggs in the honeycomb, on the honeycomb walls, heck, sort of everywhere. If the eggs develop into anything, they would turn into male drone bees but in most cases, they are just junk and signal the end of a hive.
Some beekeepers used to say that they could save the non-laying workers by shaking all of the bees out of the hive at some distance, say 500 yards, from the original location. The idea was that, like a typical real laying queen, laying workers would not really fly and so would die where they were shaken out (queens can fly…when they breed in their first week or so after emerging from a queen cell and when they swarm…in both ). Non-laying bees would return to the hive where the beekeeper could install a new fertile queen.
Research has shown that it doesn’t really work that way though…or not consistently. I prefer to shake the bees out and remove the actual hive from the location where it once stood. Any bees that return have to either transition into a nearby hive that will not tolerate laying workers or die where their old hive stood. It’s a harsh reality I suppose but the only viable solution in my yard. Sometimes it happens which is a drag, but I am pleased that I have a good number of healthy hives that will hopefully produce a lot of good honey…if the predicted frost tomorrow doesn’t kill all of the nectar-producing blooms!