I got an email from someone concerned about laying workers in their hive. So here is the quick scoop on laying workers.
A hive that has been queenless for a long time can turn into laying workers. Laying workers are workers (unfertilized females) that start to lay eggs. What's that you say "only the queen (mated female) can lay eggs".
Here is how it all happens:
In a queenrite hive, the queens pheromone that gets spread around the colony, the pheromone inhibits the development of ovaries in the worker bees. The pheromone is present around the hive and in the brood. When a queen dies, and there is still brood in the colony, the workers ovaries will still not develop. Once all the brood has hatched out, the queen pheromone will decline. This now can lead to the workers ovaries developing and the workers can now start to lay eggs. The symptom of laying workers is the beekeeper will see multiple eggs in cells. Maybe 5 to 8 eggs in a single cell. With several laying workers laying eggs there will be many cells looking like this. The eggs will be laid willy nilly in the cells. Having said this, don't be confused if you see this with a new queen. A new queen may lay multiple eggs in some cells. But she is new and needs a couple days to get her act together. She usually settles down and gets down to business laying eggs properly. One egg per cell attached to the back wall of the cell.
To stop this laying worker development, measures need to be addressed.
When doing a hive inspection and you don't see eggs and larvae in the cells on the frames, you may still see capped brood. This tells you a couple things, there maybe no laying queen present, either the hive has swarmed or for some reason the queen has perished.
The first thing you do is grab a frame with eggs on it from another colony. This will do two things, delay the workers from starting to lay because there is still brood in the hive and also, by checking this frame after a few days to see if emergency queen cells are being built off of several egg cells, telling us that the hive needs a queen. (It is usually better to purchase a new queen in the spring, letting a hive try to make a queen in the month of May and early June is very unreliable because there usually is not very many age appropriate drones being produced yet). If no queen cells are being built on the frame, this can tells us that the hive may have swarmed and the bees, unbeknownst to the beekeeper, made a new queen already and is in the hive and will start laying in a couple weeks.
If the beekeeper does come across laying workers in the hive and there is no brood present. A new queen is needed to save this colony. The way to requeen a laying worker colony is this:
Do this on a warm afternoon. Take the hive and knock all the bees into the bottom box and leave it one deep, wait about a 1/2 hour. This gives the bees time to get back onto all the frames in the box. Now take the box of bees about 100 feet away. Shake all the bees off the frames and into the grass. Bring the box with the frames back and set it back on the bottom board that it came from. Now all the bees will fly back to the hive. The laying workers cannot fly and they will stay in the grass. I would give them an hour or so, then I would put in a frame of brood and the new queen with a candy plug for a slow release. This usually works, I have recommended this method and the beekeepers who did this, most had success.