Q&A – Drone Comb and Brood Patterns

Someone emailed me a couple questions like I’m some kind of beekeeper who knows stuff. I got lucky, though, because the questions were easy.

Question #1: What does drone comb look like?
Answer #1: It looks like this:

Old capped drone comb (August 2, 2011.)

It also looks like this:

Old spotty capped drone comb. (August 2, 2011.)

And this:

Capped drone comb (August 2, 2011.)

Capped drone cells are large and bullet shaped. These photos were taken from an old frame packed with drone comb that I pulled from one of my foundationless hives a while ago. That drone that looks like it’s emerging from its cell is actually dead. Fresh drone comb isn’t as dark, and most beekeepers using conventional frames with plastic foundation probably won’t see an endless field of drone comb on their frames like this. Worker brood cells have flatter tops — I mean caps. Here’s an example:

Capped worker brood. The surface is relatively flat, not full of rounded bumps like a frame of drone comb would be.

Question #2: My queen doesn’t fill entire frames with eggs, only the middle part. Is that normal?
Answer #2: Yes. I’m no expert, but it seems normal to me. What you’ve described is exactly the pattern I see on all of my brood frames. Here’s an example:

Typical laying pattern with brood cells in the middle surrounded by a ring of pollen and honey. (August 2, 2011.)

This photo was taken from a pulled frame of mostly emerged drone comb, but the brood pattern is the same for worker brood. A ring of capped honey on the top and sides, and then brood everywhere else with open cells of packed pollen (a.k.a. baby bee food) scattered here and there close to the brood cells. You can view another example from yesterday’s post, Honey Super Filling Up Slowly. Here’s another example, slightly cropped-in:

The only time I’ve seen full frames of worker brood is in nucs, but my experience at this time is limited.

February 2019 Postscript: My answers seem fairly well informed considering I only had about a year of experience under my belt when I wrote this. The classic brood pattern is the ball of brood in the middle, then a strip of pollen or “bee bread” (pollen mixed with nectar and digestive fluids, then sealed with honey) and then honey on the outside. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but many beekeepers prefer to see several frames of nothing but brood in the spring when colonies are building up. I’m still not sure what pushes some queens to lay eggs on every cell of a frame so that the frame is edge-to-edge full of brood. I could probably Google it and find the answer, but without cheating, my best guess is that young, well-mated, vigorous queens, especially on brand new comb, are more likely to fill entire frames with brood. There’s more to it than that, but generally I’d say that’s how it works. When I don’t see at least one frame of solid brood in the spring, that makes me think the queen might be getting old or might have some issue that’s slowing her down.