Queen failure

Signs or indications

Colony underperformance; queenlessness; lack of sufficient brood production


A failing queen is difficult to diagnose. Some old queens may appear less hairy and darker and move more slowly than younger queens. Generally, a colony headed by a failing queen lacks the brood amount typical for the season. Brood patterns may be spotty, with mixed-aged brood (all brood stages) in one area. There may be nectar being put in cells in the brood area, and colonies may have little stored bee bread compared to other colonies. A colony constructing supersedure cells is a sign of a failing queen. In many ways, signs of a failing queen can be similar to those of an improperly mated queen. Additional signs may be:

  • queens that only lay unfertilized (drone) eggs (known as drone laying queens)
  • queens that lay unfertilized eggs in worker cells (producing under-sized drones)
  • queens that have patchy or spotty brood during the season, when other queen brood patterns are normal
  • queens that persistently lay more than one egg in a cell or place eggs on stored bee bread
  • lack of uniformity of similar brood age within the brood area
  • queens that suddenly cease egg laying
  • colonies that retain drone populations due to continuance of egg laying of unfertilized eggs in drone cells late into the fall

When queen breeders wish to maintain a desired stock of an aging queen, they may elect to keep her in a small colony (a nucnucleus:
also called a "nuc;" a smaller colony of bees usually with three to five frames. Nucs are splits (divides) made from larger colonies. Nucs are purchased as a method of starting a new colony or as a resource to use to bolster weaker colonies. See more information about nucs <a href="index.cfm?pageID=3093#standard">here</a> and <a href="index.cfm?pageID=3417#nuc">here</a>. 
) that they support with emerging brood and nurse-age bees.

Most closely resembles

poor colony performance; queenless colony


Moore P. 2015. Honey Bee Queens: Evaluating the Most Important Colony Member. Bee Health. Accessed 2023. https://bee-health.extension.org/honey-bee-queens-evaluating-the-most-important-colony-member/

McAfee A. 2021. The viruses hidden in our queens. American Bee Journal 161(2): 205-208. https://bluetoad.com/publication/?i=689446&p=85&view=issueViewer and https://bluetoad.com/publication/?m=5417&i=689446&view=articleBrowser&article_id=3853037&ver=html5

 Queen lacking retinue could signify queen failure; photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
Queen lacking retinue could signify queen failure; photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
 Newly emerged virgin queen; photo by Dan Borkoski
Newly emerged virgin queen; photo by Dan Borkoski