How long will bees stay in a hive without a queen?

The queen bee is the most important bee in the hive because she is the only one with a developed reproductive organ and is responsible for laying thousands of eggs every single day, most of which will become worker bees [1]. She does this to maintain the population of the colony at an optimal level. 

However, there are some instances when a hive suddenly loses its queen either by supersedure, swarming, accidental death, or simply just going missing. So, when the hive suddenly doesn’t have a queen, how long will bees stay in a hive?

When a queen bee goes missing, the hive will only survive up to four to six weeks since this is the lifetime of worker bees until they all die. The bees will also not leave the hive, like swarming, without a queen bee and will try to raise an emergency queen from the existing bee larvae. The hive will still be rescued if a new mated queen bee emerges and starts laying eggs. Beekeepers can also introduce a new replacement queen bee from other hives to recover a beehive from dying, with the hope that the colony will accept it.

Now, let us learn more about how long bees will stay in their hive without a queen.

How long will bees stay in a hive without a queen?

bees landing on a red beehive

A queen bee is projected to live an average of one to two years but can also last up to eight years [2] and lay thousands of eggs each day during that period. That is why a queen bee is expected to outlive most of the bees in the colony and be the mother to all of the bees in the hive.

So, the sudden absence of a queen bee is terrible news for a bee colony because it can spell the doom of their hive. However, worker bees are always prepared to do what they can to ensure the survival of the colony. 

Suppose there is no queen in the hive. In that case, there will be no one capable of laying fertilized eggs that will eventually turn into female worker bees that are as crucial in the survival of a hive. Though worker bees can also lay eggs, they can only produce male drone bees from unfertilized eggs [5].

Typically, a hive will survive only as long as there are worker bees in the hive, which is about four to six weeks. However, worker bees don’t just sit idle and just wait for their colony to die out. 

In the absence of a queen bee, worker bees will immediately create emergency queen cells from regular cells that are typically at the edges of the hive and feed them royal jelly in the hope that they will be ready to lay eggs as soon as possible to immediately repopulate the hive.

To learn more about bees, you should also read How many bees do you need for a hive? and How to feed bees in the fall?

How long will it take before a new queen bee emerges?

bees making honey in a beehive

After the emergency queen cells are set, the colony will wait for the new queen to emerge. This process usually takes three days for a fertilized egg to hatch to become a larva. The larval stage will take around 4.6 days before it enters the pupal stage. The pupal stage will take around another 7.5 days. 

This means that the emergence of a new virgin queen bee from an egg to emerging from the emergency cell is around 15-16 days [3]. However, the successful queen bee will still have to ensure she is the only queen bee available in the hive, so she will kill her other sisters.

The virgin queen bee then waits for another week (5-6 days) before becoming mature enough to fly to the drone congregation areas (DCA) to perform her nuptial flight, where she mates with dozens of drones in a short time [4]. After mating, the mated queen will return to the bee hive. Then after another two to five days, she will start laying thousands of eggs each day – a job that will last her lifetime.

The process of the emergency queen bee takes around four weeks to complete, which means a queenless hive has enough time to recover from the sudden loss of its queen. 

Also read: Can bees sense fear? and Why do beekeepers use smoke?


The queen bee is the most important bee in the colony because she is the only one capable of laying fertilized eggs that will turn to be worker bees. So, if the queen bee suddenly disappears for various reasons, like swarming, supersedure, killed by accident by a beekeeper, predation, or simply being lost, the colony will not survive for more than four to six weeks.

This time frame is because worker bees typically only live that long and are needed to develop a new queen bee. In the event of the absence of a queen bee, the worker bees will waste no time preparing for an emergency queen from existing bee larvae that were laid by the original queen.

So, suppose you’re a beekeeper who suddenly noticed the absence of a queen bee due to an increased number of drones, aggression, or other related signs. In that case, you can expect that the bees are already working to raise a new queen, or you can simply count them as lost. 


[1] – Queen bee. (2022, July 22). In Wikipedia.

[2] – Remolina, S. C., & Hughes, K. A. (2008). Evolution and mechanisms of long life and high fertility in queen honey bees. Age, 30(2-3), 177-185.

[3] – Tofilski, A., & Czekonska, K. (2004, May 1). Emergency queen rearing in honeybee colonies with brood of known age. Apidologie. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from

[4] – Margret Heidinger, I. M., Meixner, M. D., Berg, S., & Büchler, R. (2014). Observation of the Mating Behavior of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera L.) Queens Using Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID): Factors Influencing the Duration and Frequency of Nuptial Flights. Insects, 5(3), 513-527.

[5] – Laying worker bee. (2021, February 22). In Wikipedia.