How to Get Rid of Laying Workers in Your Beehive

Jude from Rototua had to deal with a Laying Workers issue in one of her hives and asked us how we deal with laying workers in our Bee colonies. Here is what we do:-

Identify Queen or Laying Workers

Drone Comb from Honey 1

The first step is to identify if you indeed have the problem. Usually the beekeeper discovers the hive has no worker brood, only drone cells. These are raise cells in a comb that house the male honey bees. See What is drone comb How do you tell if you have a layer worker (or workers) or an unmated queen, the method used by the layer gives you some clues to what you are dealing with, here is a quote from Roger A. Morse about the issue:-

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference between a drone and a virgin Queen from the evidence provided by the brood. This is practically when the queen is producing all drone brood. The workers will lay a number of eggs on the sides of the cells. The queen on the other hand will carefully lay her eggs.

Roger A. Morse (Author), Ted Hooper – The Illustrated-Encyclopedia of Beekeeping

You will often notice a number of eggs stuck to the sides of the cells in the honey comb, this is because a layer worker’s Abdomen can’t reach to the bottom of the cells.

Why a new queen won’t fix a layer worker issue

Just adding new queen is probably a waste of time and money, as the bees in the colony think everything is all ok. “Hey we have a queen, where did this new queen come from? ” Ted hopper feels this colony is doomed, but we don’t give up that easily:-

The Queen from Honey 1 - Can you the eggs?

In my opinion the laying working colony is a complete loss it is extremely difficult to requeen. The bees usually killing any queen introduced The bees are all of a age and are little use to another colony

Ted Hopper – Guide to Bees and Honey

Method One – add a frame of eggs

Add a frame of eggs every week, until the bees start laying a new queen. Adding a new frame disrupts the pheromone of the hive. Hopefully the bees will start to raise a new queen.

New Eggs Closeup
New Eggs Closeup

The only other really practical method, in my opinion, is to add a frame of open brood every week until they rear a queen. Usually by the second or third frame of open brood they will start queen cells. This is simple enough when the hive is in your backyard. Not so easy in an out yard 60 miles away.

Michael Bush – The Practical Beekeeper

Method Two – Shake out the bees

This has worked for us several times, but this is listed as one of Michael Bushs beekeeping myths. I guess if method one fails you can always try this method.

  1. Take the hive over fifty meters (160 feet) away.
  2. Add a new hive in the location of the old hive with laying queen or queen cell.
  3. Shake or brush the original frames from the layer worker hive you moved out onto the ground.
  4. The field bees will return to old location with the new queen.

The theory is that the old laying worker bees will not be able to locate the old hive. This makes sense to me as the layer workers have probably never left the hive.

Can you prevent this situation?

The best prevention is to discover quickly when your colony has this issues. Regular checks on the queens performance will help you work this out. We recommend you check your hives at least on a monthly basis. More during the swarming season in your area. Here is what the great A.I. Root says about prevention:-

Prevention is better than a cure if a colony from any cause becomes queen less, give it a laying queen. A virgin or unsealed brood of the proper age to raise a queen at once. when one is raised see she becomes fertile.

A.I. Root – ABC and XYC of Bee Culture

What do you do?

Have you ever had to deal with a Laying worker issue in your colonies, what did you do to correct the issue. Please comment below…

Media Credits

Piscisgate [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

8 thoughts on “How to Get Rid of Laying Workers in Your Beehive

  1. Avatar photo
    max says:

    Hi Gary,

    good points.

    I have found that switching frames around helps, and lots of smoke and some Lemon Grass oil and then a new queen. I can see in your article the reference to pheromones and I think this is the trick to it – confusion.
    I do something similar when I introduce queens into splits and can’t wait till next day. I find that a few frames of brood without a queen will accept a new queen ( in a cage) if I introduce her within minutes

    all the best


  2. Avatar photo
    morgan says:

    We had to deal with our first laying worker colony this year. We did method one and two and no sucess. What i have since learned, is that your supose to throw salt over your left shoulder before hand and afterwards sacrifice a goat to the bee gods… hmm perhaps that is why it did not work for us.

  3. Avatar photo
    Laurence says:

    Hi Gary
    we’ve used a version of method two but we didn’t replace the original hive with a new one, we just shook-out the bees and let them disperse back into the other hives in the apiary. This seemed to work very well with very little fighting when the homeless bees arrived at their new homes.

  4. Avatar photo
    Craig says:

    I’m trying this method. If you have another hive with a queen and open brood in it, you can try this…
    1. Remove top and inner cover from second hive with queen and open brood inside.
    2. Place a barrier screen (1/8″ or smaller) hardware cloth on top of second hive.
    3. Now take your drone layer hive boxes and stack them on top of the barrier.
    4. Place inner cover and lid on top of drone laying hive.
    5. Optional, after 3 days create an opening for drone laying hive to get in and out of hive
    6. After an additional 4 days, 1 week totals since drone laying hive has been on top of open brood pheromone, acquire a new queen, or a frame of brood with fertile eggs lain from the second hive on bottom. At this point the drone laying worker should have stopped laying infertile eggs due to face there is open brood and queen pheromone in hive stack.
    7. Remove drone laying hive from top of second hive back to where it will be setup – note you will have to deal with the drone layer hive bees reorienting themselves where they came from by either closing up hive for 3 days or other methods such as grass or branch in front of entrance methods.
    8. Replace inner covers and tops on both hives.
    9. Monitor drone laying hive for re-queening success.
    Note you may also cut away some off the drone brood in drone laying hive to reduce male bee population in the recovery phase, or just let them do their thing.

  5. Avatar photo
    David says:

    I do a variant of #2 … … but I use a frame of eggs and young larvae in the “new” hive. Laying workers can fly, and some can return to the original site, but shaking them out does significantly reduce their numbers. I only do this ONCE and only if the colony is strong. If the colony had dwindled to the extent that it has no real chance of producing a reasonable quality Q then it’s not worth saving – in that instance I just shake the bees out in front of a row of strong hives. Tough love, but anything else can be a huge drain on resources.


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