Beekeeping Articles

Causes and Effects of Losing a Queen Bee

Oct 02, 2018 by Javier Andres Calvo

Causes and Effects of Losing a Queen Bee

Now that the summer season has officially ended in the Northern Hemisphere and beekeepers are preparing for the winter, it’s a good time to look at one of the most important factors for a beehive’s health and productivity: the queen’s health.

How long does a queen bee live, and what contributes to her loss?

A queen honey bee's life lasts between a year and five years. In this article, we make an assessment of factors that contribute to queen loss and its effects by analyzing digital hive management records submitted through the free OSBeehives Beekeeping App. We analyzed reports for 298 unique hives, 46 of which were queenless at some point during the summer.

Hive Health: Queenright vs. Queenless

Losing a Queen Bee: Effects On Key Health Markers

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. We started by comparing beekeepers’ general hive health assessments among queenless and queenright groups:

  • The average population size was 17.73% smaller for queenless hives.
  • The average brood quality was 49.42% lower for queenless hives.
  • The average number of honey-only frames was 5.41% lower for queenless hives, adjusting for average number of supers.
  • The number of brood frames was, on average, 23.05% lower for queenless hives, adjusting for average number of supers.
  •  Colony mood was 14.96% more calm for queen less hives.

As we all know, queen loss can be stressful for the beekeeper and chaotic for a hive, and without her, the colony will not survive for long. If workers can find larvae or fertilized eggs less than around three days old, a new queen can be hatched and nurtured to maturity, but the process can take up to 29 days. If there are no fertilized eggs present when she dies, the only way for a beekeeper to save a queenless colony is to introduce a new queen from outside the hive.

Beekeeping Practices: The Basics

Losing a Queen Bee: General Beekeeping Practices

Beekeepers with queenless colonies checked on their hives 8% less often than their counterparts (Hive Checks). They also removed queen cells 14% less often (Removing Queen Cells), and cleaned their hives a staggering 78% less often (Cleaning Hive), signaling that frequent checks and maintenance are essential to keeping a healthy, queenright colony.

Losing a Queen Bee: Specific Beekeeping Practices

Regarding more specific beekeeping equipment and practices, beekeepers that added an entrance reducer experienced queenlessness 78% less often (Add Entrance Reducer), a very considerable decrease, while beekeepers that removed it almost tripled (2.7 times) the amount of expected queenless hives (Removing Entrance Reducer).

Interestingly, we didn't receive any reports of queenless hives equipped with a queen bee excluder (Queen Excluder), while 10 of the queenright hives were confirmed to have one. Despite the low amount of samples, this could be an indicator of the effectiveness of this method.

Finally, splitting a hive almost quadrupled (3.6 times) the chances of queen loss, and using medications reduced it by 27%.

Simple Ways to Protect Your Queen Honey Bee

If your goal is to reduce queen loss, these are some simple things you can do:

  • Check on your hive more often
  • Remove queen cells if you are happy with your current queen
  • Clean your hive more often
  • Use an entrance reducer
  • Use a queen bee excluder
  • Provide medication to your bees when necessary
  • Split your hive only when necessary

What does a queen bee look like?

What does a queen bee look like?

Important Note: OSBeehives provides data-driven insights into bee colony health and beekeeping practices. Part of these insights are based on reports by individual beekeepers. While we have made attempts to ensure that the displayed data is correct, OSBeehives is not responsible for any errors, omissions, or the results obtained from the use of this information.