What if your colony has multiple eggs per cell?

Recently, I purchased colonies from a reputable commercial beekeeper in central Minnesota. I just received them a week ago, and went out to perform a full colony inspection and mite check. All my colonies looked great, with the exception of one. That one colony did not look horrible, but it was a bit weaker that the rest. The colony had ~4 frames of bees compared to the other colonies, which had grown to 7 frames of bees from the original 4 frame nucs. The beekeeper produced these nucs over a month ago, so that one colony had not grown! I was not terribly concerned, but I decided to put on my detective hat to find out more..

I spotted multiple eggs per cell. I was initially concerned because the beekeeper did perform check-backs, which means the beekeeper verified the colony had a queen. I eventually found the queen and she looked healthy, young, and “excitable”. I concluded this queen is “over zealous”, and is laying multiple eggs per cell in the short term. This happens sometimes with young, newly mated queens. It is possible these are drone eggs, so I will need to continue to monitor. But as for now, I think the colony will recover quickly. These are the signs I saw:

Multiple eggs from Queen

  1. Multiple eggs from queen

If queens lay multiple eggs per cell, there is often not more than 3-4 eggs per cell. Moreover, the cells are all oriented in the middle of the cell. I would not worry to much if the queen is young and laying multiple eggs per cell, because the queen will straighten out sooner rather than later. It is possible the queen is abnormal and laying multiple eggs is a permanent trait, but it seems unlikely. I will keep track of the queen throughout the year!

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Multiple eggs from young queen. 
  1. Good pattern without drone brood

 

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Brood pattern

3. Young Queen

Lastly, the colony had a young queen without any marks of abuse. If the queen was laying drone eggs, she would most likely have: 1)tattered wings, 2)workers would be attacking her, and 3)she may be running around the colony. The colony does not want a failing queen, so they would try to replace her.

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Young, newly mated queen

Multiple eggs from Laying workers

  1. Multiple eggs from laying workers
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Laying worker eggs. Photo courtesy of Zachary Huang

As you notice, the eggs are all over the place including the cell walls. This happens because worker abdomens are shorter, so they cannot reach the bottom of the cell. So unlike multiple eggs from the queen, the eggs are often off-centered. Also, laying workers oviposit 5-10 (sometimes more) per cell. This is much more than a queen, even if the queen were laying multiple eggs.

2. Drone brood

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Drone brood from laying worker. Courtesy of Dennis Van Engelsdorp

Laying workers can only produce unfertilized eggs, which become drone brood. Laying workers cannot mate, so laying drone brood is a way to pass on genetic material. As you can see from the picture above, the colony has widespread drone brood.

Summary

Older queens can begin laying drone brood, but a failing queen will not lay over 3 eggs per cell. Furthermore, the eggs will still be centered. There is obvious differences between a laying worker, a queen laying multiple eggs and a failing queen. In my case, I believe I just have an over zealous queen that is laying multiple eggs per cell. There could be worse problems!

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Failing queen

Thank you! And I hope you enjoyed. If you enjoyed my blog, follow The Daily Guide to Beekeeping on Instagram and Twitter. Also, join our facebook page, called the Daily Guide to Beekeeping.

Cheers!
G.

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