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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I've been struggling for many weeks with two hives that have serious issues.

In both hives I have seen zero "normal" capped worker brood in many weeks.

What I do see are eggs, larvae, and what I'll call "small drone cells," e.g. cells with bulbous caps (like a drone cell), but in a normal-sized cell.

What are the possible causes of this?

Being queenless is _not_ the cause in this particular case, because I saw and marked both queens 2 weeks ago, but I'm just curious about this general phenomenon, since I have not read about it before.
 

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Well, laying worker and drone queen will give you those results. One of my overwintered nucs is doing the same thing. They have a queen cell started but I think it is a drag queen and won't make it to emergence.
 

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If the queens died and were replaced with emergency cells during the winter there is a good chance that those queens are unmated and have become drone layers. The good news is that it is better than having a laying worker. If there is no sign of normal capped worker brood in a week or so I would look for replacement queens.
 

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The drone eggs if laid by a queen will be centered in the cell bottoms. If worker laid they are randomly located in the cell bottom and sides like they have been "air dropped" and often multiple eggs per cell.
 

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One...find and kill the queens.
2....give the hives each a frame with young brood and observe what they do with it. Hopefully, they will raise a queen. If not you can keep giving a new frame of brood, and eventually they will come around.
3....if more drone brood occurs you have a drone layer(s). They take longer, but I would scrape and kill the drones just to frustrate them.

I'm suggesting all this with the assumptions that you have more hives to use as brood source, and that the problem hives do have a good number of worker bees in them. Not many bees left? Dump the on the ground and give the frames to other hives as they are no longer worth the effort to save.
 

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.... I saw and marked both queens 2 weeks ago,
Can you tell us a little more about the queens.

Are they queens you purchased before this started?
Did these 2 colonies swarm or supercede their queens? If so, what was the weather like when the virgin queens should have been taking their mating flights?
What was different with these colonies before the problems showed up?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Can you tell us a little more about the queens.

Are they queens you purchased before this started?
Did these 2 colonies swarm or supercede their queens? If so, what was the weather like when the virgin queens should have been taking their mating flights?
What was different with these colonies before the problems showed up?
There are feral swarms that I either trapped or collected last year. I never replaced the queens, and I didn't mark until 2 weeks ago.

I strongly suspect that at least one of them superseded back in Dec/Jan because I saw what looked to me like a used queen cell, e.g. fully formed, with a chewed-out circular opening.

Things I did to both hives before this all went pear-shaped:
  1. Fed pollen patties in Dec/Jan, which I've never done before.
  2. Applied 2 Apviar strips per hive in late December, which I've never done before.
  3. Didn't sacrifice a live chicken as I normally do.

This was an unusually wet and cold winter, by Los Angeles standards, as we went 41 consecutive days without breaking 70 degrees. Yeah I know, I know, I'm weeping into my pina colada as I type this. But that's a weird winter for us, and it wouldn't surprise me if it surprised the bees. By comparison, last year I caught a swarm on January 30th!

So a failed supersedure is a definite possibility, and since I've seen queens in both hives, drone layer would be highly probable, no?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks! I've read (and re-read!) that page many times.

Ah, I just found your PowerPoint, which describe the issue exactly, and your suggested fix:

The symptom is lots of drone brood but not a lot of multiple eggs in a cell.
The easiest solution is to give them a frame of eggs.
I gave a frame of eggs (from my newly acquired swarm) to one of my troubled hives, and I think I'm successfully collecting another small swarm as we speak, so I may have a queen-right swarm to combine with the second troubled hive (which I'll dequeen, first).

I'll know more on Saturday. Thanks for all the advice!

If I see queen cells on that donated frame in the first troubled hive, then I think that's a pretty definitive diagnosis of "drone layer," correct?
 

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>If I see queen cells on that donated frame in the first troubled hive, then I think that's a pretty definitive diagnosis of "drone layer," correct?

It's pretty good evidence that there is a queen problem. Either a drone laying queen, or laying workers, or at a minimum queenlessness.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
^^
I saw and marked the queens in both of the troubled hives about 2 weeks ago, so I know they both have queens.

But I'm curious--how do the bees know to supersede a drone layer? Does drone brood _not_ suppress the urge to supersede? Does worker brood emit a different set of pheromones than drone brood? Or does a drone laying queen emit different pheromones?

They know they have a queen, but how do they know she's wrong?
 
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