In a bee colony, the worker bees are the smallest and most numerous bee in the hive. They have many roles in the hive, from attending to the queen, foraging, guarding the hive, and building honeycomb.
Worker bees are all female. They are born from a fertilized egg that was laid by the queen. Worker bees have many roles in the hive, but do worker bees lay eggs?
Do Worker Bees Lay Eggs?
The simple answer is yes, worker bees can lay eggs. However, when workers lay eggs, it isn’t a good thing.
Worker bees that lay eggs are called laying workers. They do not go on a mating flight like the queen, so all eggs they lay will be unfertilized. That means that they will only produce drones.
A colony with too many drones is a problem because drones do not do any work. Their only job is to mate with a queen. Other than that, they will take up too many resources in the hive.
You may be thinking, what’s wrong with a few extra drones? Well, a beehive will not have just one laying worker. It will have hundreds of them, laying drone eggs all over the hive.
Hives with a laying worker problem cannot survive without intervention by the beekeeper. When there are too many laying workers, the colony will not accept a new queen and new worker bees will cease to be produced.
What Causes Laying Workers?
Laying workers are caused by the absence of 2 important pheromones. In a normal colony, the queen’s pheromones prevent worker bees’ ovary development and egg laying. But when there is no queen, the bees’ ovaries will develop and they will begin to lay eggs.
Workers will also lay eggs when there is a lack of open brood pheromone. As the name implies, open brood gives off this pheromone that suppresses worker bee ovaries.
Therefore, laying workers are caused by the lack of a queen, or a failing queen that has not been replaced.
Signs of Laying Workers
During hive inspections, beekeepers check the hive for signs of laying workers.
- Egg is off center in the cell. Queens have long abdomens that can lay eggs in the center of the cell. Worker bees eggs will be more towards the side.
- Multiple eggs in one cell. Queens lay one egg per cell, however worker bees will often lay more than one egg in a cell.
- Humped brood. Worker bees lay eggs in cells intended for worker bees. These cells are smaller than the cells for drones, so when the larger drone larvae develops, it sticks out of the cell, causing the wax cap to have a humped appearance.
- Spotty drone brood.
What to do About Laying Workers
If you have laying workers, you must react quickly to reverse the problem. Since laying workers are caused by a lack of a queen, you’d think that you could simply add a queen to the hive to fix it. However, it isn’t that simple.
If you try to requeen this hive, the workers will refuse to accept her and kill her. This is because they think they are already a queenright colony.
So, what can beekeepers do about laying workers? There are 2 options: add open brood the hive, or combine the colony with a stronger colony.
In the first method, a frame of open brood is added to the hive every 5-7 days for 3 weeks. This is done to suppress the ovaries of the workers. Then, the workers might make a new queen, or a queen may be introduced to the hive.
If you have another strong colony, you can also combine the colony of laying workers to your strong, queenright colony. The bees from the strong colony should police the laying workers and get things running correctly again.
If you choose to combine colonies, make sure that the other colony is strong enough to handle it. If it isn’t, you may end up with an even larger colony of laying workers.
Sometimes, unfortunately, laying worker colonies are too far gone, and you’ll just have to take your losses. It is best to catch laying workers early, so the colony has a chance to recover.
Because worker bees are female, many people wonder, do worker bees lay eggs? The answer is yes, worker bees do lay eggs, but only in the absence of a queen. Queen and brood pheromones suppress worker bees’ ovaries to stop them from laying eggs. Worker bee eggs will only be drones.