Queen bees are the reproductive force in a beehive and are responsible for the well-being and growth of the colony. When a queen stops laying eggs, the colony can decline or even completely collapse. Understanding the factors that influence the queen’s egg-laying patterns can help beekeepers better manage their hives and ensure the longevity of their colonies.
Why Would a Queen Stop Laying Eggs?
Colony’s Natural Cycle
It’s not uncommon for her egg production to taper off or even stop entirely during October or November in preparation for winter (Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research). With little to no forage available during the winter, the colony must shrink to ensure their stores are sufficient to get it through the season. The more eggs the queen lays, the more food they would need.
Not only will they need food to feed the brood, but they will also need food to generate more heat. During the winter, bees form a cluster. When brood is present, the cluster needs to maintain a higher temperature at the center where the brood is, than when there are only workers. Since nature is so efficient, the queen goes through a natural lull in egg-laying until the winter solstice. It is essential to understand the seasonal cycles of activities in colonies since they can affect egg-laying.
If you can’t find any eggs during the colony’s active season, there’s a possibility that your hive is queenless. There are several causes of queen mortality, namely:
The lack of a nutrient supply can disrupt a queen bee’s egg-laying ability. A sufficient nectar flow into the hive is crucial and a basic requirement for egg laying. Without a proper food source, the workers cannot adequately feed the queen or themselves.
Pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, can impair the queen’s health and even kill the colony.
Disease and Parasites
Some diseases and parasites can harm the queen bee, directly impacting her ability to lay eggs. For example, the Varroa mite is a common parasite that affects honeybees and can weaken a queen bee, making her susceptible to viruses that could kill her.
Various stress factors, such as environmental changes, temperature fluctuations, or disturbances in the hive, can affect the queen’s ability to lay eggs. Stress among honeybees can also make them more vulnerable to diseases and parasites, further complicating the situation and impacting reproduction.
Detecting a Laying Problem
Observe the Colony
Pay attention to the general behavior of your honey bees. A lack of activity might indicate a problem. Also, check for unusual aggressive behavior, as that is a symptom of a queenless colony.
Inspecting the Brood Pattern
A healthy queen will have a consistent, solid laying pattern with minimal empty cells. Open the hive and carefully inspect the frames to spot any discrepancies in the egg-laying pattern.
- Presence of eggs: A healthy, functioning queen will lay one egg per cell, with the eggs placed in the center of the cell. If you do not see any eggs, the queen may be absent.
- Brood pattern: A spotty or erratic brood pattern is an indicator of a problem. Healthy patterns are compact with worker, drone, and capped brood cells closely arranged together.
- Worker bee laying: In the absence of a queen, worker bees may start laying, but only drone eggs. You will notice multiple eggs per cell and an irregular pattern. By that point, the colony may be irredeemable. At best, you can try to combine it with a strong colony.
By observing the colony and inspecting the brood pattern, you can quickly detect whether there is a laying issue with your queen bee, allowing you to take appropriate action to resolve it.
Ensure the bee colony has enough food for the queen to continue laying eggs. Providing supplemental feeding in the form of sugar syrup or pollen patties can help improve the health of the colony, resulting in a better environment for the queen.
Providing a New Queen
If the queen has stopped laying eggs due to age or other reasons, introducing a new, young queen to the colony may be necessary. Requeening the hive ensures that there will be a healthy, egg-laying queen to maintain the colony’s productivity.
Dealing with Pests and Diseases
Regularly inspecting the hive and promptly addressing issues such as Varroa mites, American Foulbrood, or Nosema can help maintain the queen’s health and keep her laying eggs effectively.
Lastly, reducing stressors on the colony can help improve the queen’s egg-laying capacity. Factors such as overcrowding, lack of ventilation, inadequate food resources, or exposure to pesticides and other environmental toxins can all cause stress in the bee colony. Taking steps to address these issues can help ensure that the queen continues to lay eggs successfully.
In summary, a queen bee may stop laying eggs for various reasons, including the onset of winter, insufficient food, or poor hive conditions. Beekeepers should monitor their hives and respond accordingly to ensure the health and productivity of the queen bee.
Proper hive management, providing adequate food, and maintaining optimal hive conditions, can help prevent sudden drops in egg-laying. Furthermore, if a queen bee has gone off-lay, inspecting the hive for emergency cells and taking necessary actions can help revive the queen’s egg-laying capabilities (source).
In conclusion, it’s important to remember that although a queen bee may temporarily stop laying eggs, many factors can influence her productivity.