In order to survive, a beehive needs a queen and there is only one queen per hive. So, what happens if the queen leaves? How long will bees stay in a hive without a queen?
New beekeepers who have noticed that their hive is missing a queen often ask this question. The simple answer is that unless your hive gets a new queen or you continue to add new brood, your hive will die off within a few weeks.
The lifespan of the honeybee is around four to six weeks, so if your hive is left queenless the population of bees will not survive longer than this. Bees will die off one by one and without a queen to lay new brood, the population will simply dwindle until there are none left. So what can you do if you notice your hive no longer has a queen?
How to Ensure Your Queenless Hive Survives
As mentioned above, a hive will only ever have one queen at a time, and without her it will not survive. The queen is essential to the hive as it is only her that can lay fertilized eggs. Furthermore, it is her pheromones that will keep the other bees working as they should. Basically, without her order in the colony may quickly deteriorate to disorder.
In some instances, a queen will become sick. If this happens, the colony will be affected. Experienced beekeepers will be well aware of the different sound a colony makes when there is something amiss with the queen. It is usually much louder, and you may also notice that bees in the vicinity of the hive are flying around in an aggressive manner.
Once bees become aware that something is wrong with their queen, they will begin the process of raising a new queen. This can take about two weeks. However, it can take a further two to three weeks for this new queen to start laying eggs.
This means that four to five weeks will have passed before the colony can begin reproducing again. However, this timeframe depends on the colony already having eggs or good larvae present when the queen dies. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and if so, the beekeeper will have to intervene. As soon as you notice that your hive no longer has a queen, you will need to act to ensure its survival.
If your hive does not have eggs or young larvae already, you can either purchase a mated queen to add to your colony or you can add new frames with eggs or larvae each week for around two to three weeks. The bees in your hive will then get to work raising a new queen.
It is crucial that you monitor the hive during this time because if the population appears to be declining quickly, you will need to add frames with capped or emerging brood. This should help to keep the colony going until the new queen is fully mature, mating, and laying eggs.
How to Tell if Your Hive is Queenless
New beekeepers often find themselves in a situation where something has happened to their queen, but many do not recognize the signs until it is too late.
As the queen is the only bee that can lay fertilized eggs, you can usually tell that something is wrong if your hive does not have any eggs. When you are doing a hive inspection, it is important that you check for the presence of eggs in the comb. If there are no eggs, the worker bees will no longer need to care for the brood and will therefore be looking for new jobs. You might notice that there is a sudden increase in honey in the hive. If there is more honey and no brood, your hive likely has no queen.
You will also observe a change in the hum made by your hive as bees without a queen will be restless and agitated. Some keepers describe it as a high-pitched grumble.
But probably the biggest indicator of a queenless hive is a dwindling population. Without the queen to lay eggs, the older bees will begin to die off and will not be replaced by new ones.