Natural Beekeeping 101: Drone laying queen

There was a question on my Facebook page about drone laying queen. So, now I have some pictures!drone laying queen

First, here is a quick bee biology reminder:
The queen mates a few times in the beginning of her “career” and stays in the hive for the rest of her life. The sperm, which she collected during her mating flights, stays in her spermatheca. If she lays an egg in the small cell, she releases the sperm from her spermatheca, thus fertilizing it. If she lays an egg in the large cell, she does not release the sperm, and the egg will develop into drone larva. Drones are big fussy bees that do not sting, by the way. Drones carry only their mother’s DNA, so they are her genetic replica (with some genetic variations, of course).

The inspection started as usual, counting the bee-filled spaces (some beekeepers count frames with bees on them, but it is the same thing), examining food stores, looking at brood pattern and signs of disease. Immediately, I noticed that among capped brood cells, a few stuck out (characteristic of a drone larva in the wrong cells). As I continued, I also noticed an abundance of drones and a whole two drone filled frames! The final sign of trouble was the bee temper: they were definitely not happy.
drone laying queen
Those are all the signs of failing queen. When the queen fails, the bees start working on replacing her and producing a lot of drones, to create the last wave of DNA propagators, so to speak. That is all theory, of course, since none of us actually interviewed the bees or the queen. Neither do we really know the cause of a relatively young queen laying drones. Drone eggs, which were not laid in the proper size cell, were simply unfertilized eggs. The queen meant for them to be worker bee eggs, but there was no sperm left in her spermatheca, or (according to Dr. Larry Connor) the sperm was sterile.
drone laying queen

drone laying queen
The next step was to look for the queen. She was already gone. The bees have disposed of the failing monarch, before I could bid her good bye… The last thing to check for was any queen cells. I found two.
queen cells

queen cell
So, what did I do?

I left them all alone, without dusting them this time. I set up the feeder on the top, and did not add an extra box with foundation, for expansion, because I wanted them to feel crowded and take good care of their emerging queen(s). One of the queens will kill the other, but I choose not to decided which one I leave, because this is not a swarming situation. I did not have to add bees to the hive, because they had 7 bee spaces filled. There were two frames with capped brood, so those young nursing bees will take care of the new queen.

Usually, I would have shaken some nursing bees into the hive, but this colony was a good size one, so I will give it a chance to figure it out. Next time I will need to dust them very well, and the next time, during inspection, I will spray them with red pepper spray. Broodless period allows us, beekeepers to use dusting very effectively to dislodge those Varroa mites from foragers!

If not doing well, the new queen will be replaced in the fall, when I change all of the comb.

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