Causes and symptoms

This is a problem for beekeepers who are unable to check their colonies at regular intervals, or whose intervals between inspections are too long. The signs are easy to recognize. When carrying out your inspection, you see several eggs in one or more cells, and these eggs are not right at the bottom of the cell where they should be. What has happened is that the queen has died or is unable to lay eggs – possibly as a result of damage when manipulated by the beekeeper. For some reason, the workers have been unable to raise another queen from a young larva, and so the colony has become hopelessly queen less.

When this problem occurs, the pheromonal imbalance in the colony – especially the lack of queen pheromone and open-brood pheromone – causes the ovaries of some of the workers to enlarge and so they start to lay eggs. Not being able to mate, the workers can lay only drone eggs, and this they do in worker cells. The resulting drones are small and useless, and the colony is doomed. Small, isolated drone cells made out of worker cells are, therefore, another sign that there are problems in the colony  Quite a few workers may be at this game, and they compete with each other, resulting in many eggs laid in single cells. A worker’s abdomen is not as long as that of the queen, and so she can lay the egg only part way down the cell Other workers may remove many of these eggs because they don’t recognize them as queen eggs. The brood pattern, therefore, is always very spotty and uneven, with empty cells scattered among the small, domed drone cells.

The easily visible symptoms of laying workers, therefore, include the following:

  • Spotty and uneven brood.
  • Small drone brood only present.
  • The number of eggs per cell.
  • Egg position.
  • Drone brood in worker cells.

Removing laying workers is difficult because they look the same as other workers and because there will probably be quite a few of them. Introducing a new queen to a hive with laying workers is, however, often a waste of money: the colony considers itself queen-right and will not accept the new queen.

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