In my last post I mentioned the unexpected finding of drones outside the hives before the first inspection, wondering whether they might have overwintered undetected or whether there might be a more sinister explanation. Eventually the weather warmed up enough for a first look inside the hives. Three were doing well but inside the fourth this was the appearance.
Here is another frame.
There were five frames with eggs, larvae and sealed brood but none of it was worker brood - a tell-tale sign of a drone laying queen. Here is a closer view of the brood.
Eventually I spotted the queen - not easy as she was unmarked in a hive with lots of drones.
The interesting thing is that this is the hive that had two yellow-marked queens on 30th August last year and one of them was still present on my last inspection on 24th September, with normal worker brood. Both last year's marked queens were very dark. The present queen has different colouring and no trace of a yellow mark, so she must have been a very late replacement last year, too late to get mated. The thing that puzzles me is why the bees replaced the other two who were both new and at least one of them was producing normal worker bees (that is where the overwintering workers came from). Here is the new queen busy laying eggs, surrounded by the midwives.
It was a fairly simple task to mark her while she was laying, if perhaps a little undignified. This meant I could find her more easily once I had decided what to do.
She ran around for a few moments but soon went back to laying.
This is a potentially recoverable situation as the colony is queenright. It would be possible to replace the queen (except that I don't have a spare). It would also be possible to remove the queen, give a frame of eggs from another hive and let the bees raise a new queen. However, that would mean a delay of three or four weeks before the new queen was laying and six or seven weeks before she produced new worker bees. The present workers have overwintered and won't last much longer. As I have more hives than I really want, and one of the others is a bit small, I have decided to remove the drone-laying queen and unite her colony with the other. Then at least these workers can join the workforce while they last.