Laying Worker Bees

Laying Worker Bees

A Laying Worker is a worker bee that lays unfertilized eggs that develop into drones.

Approximately 1% of workers have ovaries developed enough to lay eggs. In A Queen-right colony, they only lay a few eggs but will lay significant numbers of eggs in Queen-less colonies.

Normally, pheromones prevent development of the workers’ ovaries. Laying Workers can develop after the colony’s queen has been lost to swarming (this is what happened to me, Laying Workers Killed My Queen), or in the presence of a failing queen who has yet to be superseded. The process of developing a Laying Worker usually takes weeks after the loss of the original queen.

The colony will die with only Laying Worker bees.

Identifying Laying Workers

Spotted Brood Pattern – Workers may remove the eggs due to the lack of the necessary pheromone resulting in a spotty brood pattern, in which empty cells are scattered heavily through capped brood.

Multiple Eggs Per Cell – Queen bees usually lay only a single egg per cell, but Laying Workers will lay multiple eggs per cell. Multiple eggs per cell are not an absolute sign of a laying worker because when a newly mated queen begins laying, she may lay more than one egg per cell.

Laying Worker Eggs
Laying Worker Eggs. Souce: BeeBase, Crown Copyright

Eggs At Side Of Cell – A Queen’s abdomen is longer than a worker. A queen bee will usually lay an egg centered at the bottom of a cell. Workers cannot reach the bottom of normal depth cells, and will lay eggs on the sides of the cell or off centre.

Drone Brood In Worker Cells – Drones in worker cells are a sure sign of a failing queen or laying worker. When my hive became full of Laying Workers they produced Dwarf Drones.

Drone In Worker Brood
Drone In Worker Brood. Source: BeeBase, Crown Copyright.


The FERA, BeeBase website says “Unlike colonies with a failing or defective queen, those with laying workers are very difficult to re-queen. The best course of action is usually to unite the colony with a stronger colony.”

My limited experience of beekeeping (i.e. uniting a colony with laying workers that killed my Queen) leads me to describe what the Bee Inspector recommended to me, ie. throw the bees in a hedge 200m away and the flying bees (non-laying workers) will find the stronger colony.

Others say that laying workers will still find the hive and best to terminate the colony.

You might want to read about my experiences of Laying Workers:

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3 thoughts on “Laying Worker Bees”

  1. I have a laying worker problem in a double deep i could blow off all the bees but my problem is i have 5 queen cells in the second deep.I am now searching for someone to talk to as i am lost as what to do. If you know please contact me.

  2. We just dealt with a laying worker issue. After being away for a couple of weeks, we noticed one hive appeared to be weak (numbers and behavior). Upon opening the hive there were a large number of drones, and a few scattered brood typical of laying workers in a queenless hive. On day 0 we placed a frame full of young brood in the queenless hive. On day 3 we checked the hive and placed another frame of brood. On day 6, we placed a third frame of brood. On day 9 we checked the hive and found queen cells, and at this point left the hive alone other than placing a board feeder on it. Roughly a month later the hive was looking strong, with multiple frames of brood, and increasing numbers.

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