Can You Keep a Queen from Leaving with a Swarm?

Ask the Expert!

Can You Keep a Queen from Leaving with a Swarm?

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Charles writes:

Is there a type of beehive that allows the queen to stay isolated from the rest of the swarm?

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Rusty Burlew replies:

No beehive is designed to keep the queen separate from the rest of the bees. Queen pheromones, which are hormone-like chemicals secreted by the queen, cause the colony to act in a cohesive way. In other words, the scent of the queen causes the colony to work together as a unit with common goals.

Without a queen and her pheromones, a colony soon falls apart. Not only do they lose their leader, but they also lose their only fertilized egg-layer. Studies have shown that it takes about 10 minutes for a colony to realize it is queenless and begin assessing the prospects for replacing her.

The worker bees need to be in constant contact with their queen because the queen’s pheromones do not float in the air like the smell of baking bread. Instead, they are passed through physical contact. The bees closest to the queen touch her with their antennae, rub against her, feed her, and groom her. During these activities, her scent is transferred to those bees and they, in turn, touch other bees, delivering the scent through the ranks.

A queen can be kept in a small cage within a colony for short periods, as long as the bees can feed her and touch her through the mesh. For example, a small cage is used for introducing a queen into a new colony because it protects her while the bees are getting accustomed to her scent.

Queens can also be restricted from certain parts of a hive, as long as the bees continue to have physical access to her. Queen excluders, for example, are used to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey supers, but all the workers can pass freely from one section of the hive to another. The constant movement of the workers delivers fresh doses of queen pheromone throughout the colony, even though the queen herself cannot go into the supers.

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