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How to Get Rid of Laying Workers in Your Beehive

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How to Get Rid of Laying Workers in Your Beehive
Jude from Rototua had to deal with a Laying Workers issue in one of her hives and asked us how we deal with laying workers in our Bee colonies. Here is what we do:-

Identify Queen or Laying Workers

Drone Comb from Honey 1The first step is to identify if you indeed have the problem. Usually the beekeeper discovers the hive has no worker brood, only drone cells. These are raise cells in a comb that house the male honey bees. See What is drone comb

How do you tell if you have a layer worker (or workers) or an unmated queen, the method used by the layer gives you some clues to what you are dealing with, here is a quote from Roger A. Morse about the issue:-

Sometimes it's difficult to see the difference between a drone and a virgin Queen from the evidence provided by the brood. This is practically when the queen is producing all drone brood. The workers will lay a number of eggs on the sides of the cells. The queen on the other hand will carefully lay her eggs.
Roger A. Morse (Author), Ted Hooper – The Illustrated-Encyclopedia of Beekeeping

You will often notice a number of eggs stuck to the sides of the cells in the honey comb, this is because a layer worker's Abdomen can't reach to the bottom of the cells.

Why a new queen won’t fix a layer worker issue

Just adding new queen is probably a waste of time and money, as the bees in the colony think everything is all ok. “Hey we have a queen, where did this new queen come from? ” Ted hopper feels this colony is doomed, but we don’t give up that easily:-

The Queen from Honey 1 - Can you the eggs?In my opinion the laying working colony is a complete loss it is extremely difficult to requeen. The bees usually killing any queen introduced The bees are all of a age and are little use to another colony
Ted Hopper – Guide to Bees and Honey

Method One – add a frame of eggs

Add a frame of eggs every week, until the bees start laying a new queen. Adding a new frame disrupts the pheromone of the hive. Hopefully the bees will start to raise a new queen.

New Eggs Closeup
New Eggs Closeup
The only other really practical method, in my opinion, is to add a frame of open brood every week until they rear a queen. Usually by the second or third frame of open brood they will start queen cells. This is simple enough when the hive is in your backyard. Not so easy in an out yard 60 miles away.
Michael Bush – The Practical Beekeeper

Method Two – Shake out the bees

This has worked for us several times, but this is listed as one of Michael Bushs beekeeping myths. I guess if method one fails you can always try this method.

  1. Take the hive over fifty meters (160 feet) away.
  2. Add a new hive in the location of the old hive with laying queen or queen cell.
  3. Shake or brush the original frames from the layer worker hive you moved out onto the ground.
  4. The field bees will return to old location with the new queen.

The theory is that the old laying worker bees will not be able to locate the old hive. This makes sense to me as the layer workers have probably never left the hive.

Can you prevent this situation?

The best prevention is to discover quickly when your colony has this issues. Regular checks on the queens performance will help you work this out. We recommend you check your hives at least on a monthly basis. More during the swarming season in your area.

Here is what the great A.I. Root says about prevention:-

Prevention is better than a cure if a colony from any cause becomes queen less, give it a laying queen. A virgin or unsealed brood of the proper age to raise a queen at once. when one is raised see she becomes fertile.
A.I. Root – ABC and XYC of Bee Culture

What do you do?

Have you ever had to deal with a Laying worker issue in your colonies, what did you do to correct the issue. Please comment below…

Gary Fawcett

Gary enjoys designing new kiwimana products which we sell through our on-line shop.He is passionate about saving the Bees and encouraging urban beekeeping.Gary loves to write about issues that affect the Bees and our environment.He is also into tramping/walking in the beautiful New Zealand bush.

7 thoughts on “How to Get Rid of Laying Workers in Your Beehive

  1. Hi Gary,

    good points.

    I have found that switching frames around helps, and lots of smoke and some Lemon Grass oil and then a new queen. I can see in your article the reference to pheromones and I think this is the trick to it – confusion.
    I do something similar when I introduce queens into splits and can’t wait till next day. I find that a few frames of brood without a queen will accept a new queen ( in a cage) if I introduce her within minutes

    all the best

    max

  2. We had to deal with our first laying worker colony this year. We did method one and two and no sucess. What i have since learned, is that your supose to throw salt over your left shoulder before hand and afterwards sacrifice a goat to the bee gods… hmm perhaps that is why it did not work for us.

  3. My girls don’t seem to do this….

  4. Brian D Jeffers you may like to share with your club

  5. Whats your opinion of putting ‘drone foundation’ in to supers to maximise honey yield?
    #BeeKeeping #Buzzing @margaretginman

  6. Hi Gary
    we’ve used a version of method two but we didn’t replace the original hive with a new one, we just shook-out the bees and let them disperse back into the other hives in the apiary. This seemed to work very well with very little fighting when the homeless bees arrived at their new homes.

  7. Awesome blog G ?

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