Of the two hives we have, one is doing marvelously, with beautiful comb and lots of stored honey and pollen. The other hive has been somewhat of a challenge because it has what is called a “drone layer” or a queen bee that can only lay drone eggs. With a drone layer, the capped brood is lumpy and funny looking and the colony is in danger of dying.
To understand why having a drone layer is such a problem and how queens become drone layers, one needs to know something about the lives of bees. Shortly after a queen hatches, she needs to fly out of the hive and mate with several drones. This provides her with enough fertilized eggs for the rest of her laying life, which can be up to 5 years!
Throughout her life, she can lay either fertilized or unfertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs become worker bees while the unfertilized eggs become drones. Worker bees collect pollen and nector, make honey, and raise the brood or baby bees. Without them the colony dies. Drones hang out waiting to find virgin queens to mate with. You can see which type of bee I would prefer to have.
If the weather is cold when the queen is supposed to be taking her mating flight, she may stay in the hive and miss the breeding window. That means she will not be able to lay fertilized eggs for the rest of her life- she can produce only drones and no worker bees. A colony without worker bees will not last for very long.
And what does one do with a drone-laying queen? One kills it. And replaces it with a new queen who has hopefully successfully completed a mating flight. So that was my sad task the other day. I have now introduced a new queen and I’ll let you know if the introduction appears successful in a few days.
I never knew insects lived for up to 5 years.