drone brood in late March

Asked April 2, 2019, 2:08 PM EDT

It was recently warm enough to do a quick lift-the-inner-cover and peak at a few frames inspection. One colony has plenty of food but a smaller population than I expected given the foragers I've beenobserving. I saw capped brood but there were a few bullet shaped capped cells scattered in area that was worker sized comb. Given the temperature of just 60 degrees I did not want to chill the bees so I gave them a pollen substitute patty for insurance and closed up the colony? Could this mean the colony is queenless and workers are laying?

Multnomah County Oregon bees

3 Responses

Ah, those early spring inspections sometimes have surprises for the beekeeper. It wasn’t quite clear to me whether you saw regular worker capped brood in addition to some scattered drone cells or merely capped drone cells. This colony could have a failing, drone laying queen or laying workers. You will need to take a closer look, but then you know that. Giving them a pollen patty was a wise move. The diminishing worker force will have easy access to vital protein.

While you wait for a warmer day, here are some resources to guide you when you are able to make an in depth inspection. First, if you haven’t done so, download the mobile phone app “Bee Health” which “is an educational tool developed for beekeepers by Alberta (Canada) Agriculture and Forestry.” Among the pests listed is a drone laying queen and egg laying workers. Each of these has a description, a list of symptoms, monitoring, and management treatment along with a good photo.

The next resource is from University of Guelph Bee Research Centre. They have many videos but the one that applies to your situation is What to do with Laying Workers. It is clearly presented with several close up views of the different symptoms of laying workers. He does not cover a drone laying queen.

Rusty Burlew’s bee blog website, Honey Bee Suite has an excellent article, Drone-Laying Queen or Laying Workers that has clear photos of each situation. She also has an article, How to Fix a Laying Worker Hive that you will find helpful, if in fact that is your colony’s situation.

Don’t lose hope; bees are amazing in their ability to recover from each of these situations with a little of your help.

Thanks, Anna, for the detailed response. I suspect it is laying workers but it is the first time I've had that situation. I do have the Bee Health app but thanks for the other useful links. I am trying to finish the Journey level of the OSU Master Beekeeping program and trying the "ask an expert" is part of the Guided Study on eXtension. Having got such a good result, I will be sure to mention it to the apprentice level students that I'm helping to instruct...in case their mentors or instructors can answer all their questions.
Best, Gregg

Gregg, you're welcome, I'm so glad that the Ask an Expert service was helpful. I think the guided studies are the crown jewels of the Journey level.

Consider laying workers yet another step in your beekeeping education.

May your bees come to their senses with a little assistance from you, and may you sail through the rest of your Journey level requirements.