Egg laying worker bees

eieren-kleinMore panic ensued when I found this in my artificial swarm hive (image on the left) multiple eggs per cell is an indication of egg laying workers. I didn’t know this at first. At first I just thought “Wow, multiple eggs per cell, thats weird”. I only found out what it actually meant when I shared the picture with fellow beekeepers. After I found out what it was I did more research. The weird thing is that workers bees don’t start laying eggs until the have been queen-less for at least 3 weeks, and I had seen the queen a few days earlier (image below).

A fellow beekeeper hypothesized that I may have an infestation of worker bees from someone else’s colony, who had given up on the colony by shaking the bees off the comb and taking the hive away, because of this the same reason I was having problems. Worker bees will often successfully try to get themselves accepted into a different colony when his happens. But egg laying worker bees will not stop laying eggs and often will kill the queen of the new colony as a competitor even though eggs from workers will only produce drones and will often get eaten by workers as sub-par eggs. Egg laying workers will secrete the same pheromones as the queen does so the colony does not realize it is queen-less. So introducing a new queen will not work, the colony will get rid of that new queen by killing her.

There are ways to get rid of egg laying worker bees but it take a lot of effort and resources, things I didn’t have, with only one other colony that did not jet have an egg laying queen. The safest and easiest option in this case would be to let the colony die, which would happen regardless as there will come no more new worker bees. But the right thing to do if you are giving up the colony would be to kill it by burning phosphorus in the hive in stead of letting the colony slowly die off, and have the chance that some of the egg laying worker bees leave and go and “infect” an other colony with a repeat of the problems.

Mijn koningin
The queen

If you really want to save the colony you would need to introduce comb with young developing eggs and larva twice over two 9 day periods. As open developing brood will give off pheromones that suppresses egg laying by worker bees. After this you can try to introduce a new queen in a special cage, although there is still a chance that this will fail. This wasn’t an option for me at that moment as I didn’t have the resources like enough open brood. I’d say you would need at least two other hives with a good size colony to provide open brood and not be slightly crippled by these actions.

I’d already come to terms with the fact that my seconds hive would be dying when I found my queen again in the second hive, apparently she had never been gone. So how then can the multiple eggs per cell be explained? I have no idea, and neither did the other beekeepers I asked about this. Younger queens can lay multiple eggs per cells by mistake but worker bees will clean this up by eating the eggs. But this queen was already over 2 years old, this was her 3rd season. So I still don’t have an explanation but I’m sure that the next time something like this happens I’ll be sure to do a thorough search for the queen before jumping to conclusions.



2 thoughts on “Egg laying worker bees

  1. This was over a 6 months ago and it didn’t get as far that any of the brood in question got capped, I found the queen way before that, so most likely the panic was for nothing and if there were egg laying worker bees they either left got killed or lost their egg laying tendency.

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