What to do in a queenless hive

The queen is the most important member of your colony. Every colony must have a queen. You can learn more about the importance of the queen bee in our blog post here.

If the colony is queenless :

A. There will be several queen cells on the brood combs. There will be no eggs in the worker cells. However if the queen has died within one or two days there might be some eggs and young larvae. Check the colony again in 2-3 days, for the presence of eggs and queen cells.

B. If there are no eggs and no open brood but there are sealed brood, the queen has died within 6-10 days. You will see several queen cells on the brood combs. Check all the brood combs by shaking the bees. Leave one or two largest queen cells and destroy the rest of them, if you are not in the Africanized bee states. The queen will emerge, destroy the other queen cells and will take a mating flight 7-10 days after emergence. If you are in the Africanized states like Arizona, shake all the brood frames, destroy the queen cells, buy a new mated queen from reliable queen breeders and introduce her.

C. If there is no open brood but some emerged queen cells, there is a new virgin queen or newly mated queen in the hive. If the colony population is small and queen cells are destroyed from the sides, it is most likely that colony has swarmed. Check all the combs one by one and look for a virgin queen. If you are in the Africanized bee state find the virgin or mated queen, cage her until you buy a new mated European queen. If you are in the non-Africanized states leave the queen in the hive and check the colony within 7-10 days and look for the eggs.  

Buy a new queen or unite queenless colony with a queen right colony

  • Buy a young mated queen and requeen the colony. It is recommended to buy a good quality European queen bee. It might be difficult to buy a queen in the fall. If you can not buy a new queen but if you have a small colony or a nucleus colony you can unite the colonies.
  • If the weak queenright colony is only 3-5 frames, adjust the uniting board round knobs to ventilation setting, so bees can not pass through the holes but the odors can. Then place the uniting board in the Apimaye hive and transfer the frames of bees of the queenless colony on the other side. Place the top feeder, start feeding the hive. The odor of the both hives will diffuse through the uniting board. After 3-5 days remove the uniting board. The bees will be acclimatized and will not kill each other.
  • If the queenless hive has more than 6-7 frames of bees and queenright colony is weaker,
    • Remove the cover and the feeders from the queenless colony.
    • Place a newspaper between the brood box and an empty super.
    • Make some slits on the newspaper by using a hive tool.
    • Then transfer the frames of bees from the queen-right hive to the empty super.
    • Place the top feeder and feed the bees sugar syrup. Cuts on the newspaper will allow the odors pass through but the bees can not. The bees will chew the newspaper from the cuts and the colonies will be united without killing each other. Remove the newspaper 3-5 days after and check for the queen and the brood. The success rate of uniting colonies on both methods is close to 100%.
    • Placing the weaker colony on the top has more success than vice versa.
  • If you cannot purchase a queen and if you do not have weak colonies, and if there is no young brood in the hive, transfer a comb with young larvae and eggs from another colony. The bees will rear new queens from the young larvae or eggs. However it takes about 15-16 days for the new queen to emerge and another 10-12 days for queen to mature and 3-4 days after mating to lay eggs. So the colony will be queenless for about 1 month and it might be too late for the queen to mate in temperate or cold climates. Therefore the queen may not take a mating flight and will lay unfertilized eggs. It is better to buy a queen than rearing your own queen in the fall.

Still no queen cells?

If the bees do not rear queens on the newly introduced brood comb, there might be a virgin queen in the hive. In this case, check the colony again, if you still can not find the queen, wait another week and inspect the hive again. If you see eggs in the cells, the queen has mated and started laying eggs. You will eventually see the queen on the brood combs. Mark your queen to find her easier next time.

If you do not see the queen but if you see multiple eggs in the cells, that means the colony is queenless for a long time and some of the workers started laying eggs. It is called a laying worker colony and it is very difficult to introduce new queen in such colonies. Laying worker colonies can not overwinter and they will die. So it is better to take the honey combs and place them in queenright colonies.

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