Should You Use a Queen Bee Excluder?​

A queen excluder is an optional piece of beekeeping equipment, separating the queen bee laying eggs from the honey supers. That's not how a beehive is organized naturally, but it makes honey harvesting much easier.

Using a queen bee excluder can:

  • Make honey collection very easy.
  • Help the beekeeper to locate the queen bee fast.
  • Cause overcrowding and overheating of the beehive.

What Is a Bee Excluder Used For?

A queen excluder is a plastic or perforated metal barrier separating the brood chamber and the honey super. Without the excluder, the queen bee lays eggs anywhere in the hive.

In good conditions, her egg-laying can be expanded into supers with honey storage. When this happens, beekeepers need to be more careful while honey harvesting. That’s the main reason they use queen excluders — to keep the queen bee with her brood, separated from honey supers.

How Does a Queen Excluder Work?

The beehive population consists of male drones, infertile female worker bees and a queen. Physically, the queen differs from them as the only fertile female in the colony. Her role is to lay eggs. That’s why her body — especially thorax — is larger compared to other bees in the hive.

The gaps in a queen excluder are designed so that the queen can’t pass through, but so other bees can. That’s how the excluder divides the beehive into two parts — the brood part, with the queen bee, and the honey part. The brood chamber’s usually on the bottom of the beehive, while honey storage is above.

What Are the Pros of Queen Excluders?

Using a queen excluder makes it easier to:

  • Collect honey
  • Inspect and monitor the hive

Honey Collection Using the Excluder

Since the queen and baby bees are separated from the honeycombs, the honey collection’s much simpler and faster. The other bees are also more likely to be found on brood combs. These bee locations minimize the amount of work a beekeeper has when removing honey from the honey chamber.

Pollen is also found mostly on brood combs. That means honey on the frame contains less pollen and is purer. That affects its crystallization process and lowers the possibility of an allergic reaction after honey consumption.

Inspecting and Monitoring the Hive

Using the queen excluder makes it easy to locate the queen in a short time. This comes in handy when introducing a new queen bee or during a regular or disease inspection of the beehive.

What Are the Cons of Queen Excluders?

A lack of scientific research on this topic makes it hard to draw certain conclusions. There are some aspects of using the queen excluders that demand special attention though.

When using the queen excluder, beekeepers should avoid:

  • Overcrowding the beehive
  • Overheating the beehive
  • Hurting the bees

Overcrowding the Beehive

The queen bee has a restricted area for laying eggs. During her increased activity, the restricted part of the hive can become overcrowded. This can cause unwanted, rapid swarming

Swarming is a mechanism bees use when their colony gets overcrowded, or the conditions in the hive are no longer optimal. A part of the colony may relocate due to lack of food, parasite infestation, problems with the queen or an overheated beehive.

Only a part of a beehive may get overcrowded when a queen bee excluder’s in use. The bees swarming out for this reason may leave behind a smaller and, therefore, weaker colony.

Overheating the Beehive

Bees build burr comb on the excluders. This reduces the airflow and can cause overheating in the beehive. The queen bee will stop laying eggs in high temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit and poor ventilation. On top of this, the existing brood can die when too hot. The workers may stop their honey production as well.

Bees have their own mechanisms to fight these conditions. They try to cool down the hive by fanning and adding water to the hive. This can only be a short-term solution, though. If a beekeeper doesn’t solve the overheating problem in time, this may be the end of a colony.

Hurting the Bees

Low-quality excluders may damage the worker bees’ wings with their sharp edges. This may affect the lifespan of workers and, therefore, honey production.

If the queen bee is highly productive, the brood can reach the honey super usually located above the brood chamber. This can get the drones trapped just above the excluders and cause their death.

Some of the workers may have difficulties passing through the excluder in any case, which affects their movement and work. We suggest the use of an extra upper entrance as a solution.

On the other hand, a virgin queen bee or a small newly mated one can fit through the gaps of the excluder. This means she can leave the brood chamber and find her egg-laying spot elsewhere. It doesn’t hurt her, but she’s more difficult to locate and monitor for the beekeeper.

Do Excluders Affect Honey Production?

Some beekeepers may be skeptical about this due to slower movement or injuries of the worker bees they’re noticing. Research has shown that using the excluder may have a positive effect on honey production in the beehive, though.

 The research on African honey bees shows that colonies with queen excluders tend to produce more honey than the ones without the excluder. Two groups of bees were tested during a peak nectar flow when there’s a lot of food available in their environment.

These bees used to continue with brood rearing during the peak nectar flow season. The tested group with the queen excluder did the opposite — it focused on honey production and minimized the brood population. Honey yields in this group were approximately 25 percent greater than in the control group without the excluder.

The results of both groups were comparable outside the nectar flow period. They were both brood-rearing and produced similar amounts of honey.

Good Beehive Management

Although a queen excluder is well-known among beekeepers, there’s still no clear consensus on to what extent the excluder benefits the beehive. For defining more pros and cons of using the excluder, further scientific research is necessary.

Excluders are practical for honey harvesting and beehive inspections, and demand some extra care for the bees to continue their work undisturbed. Beekeeper’s hive management plays a key role here.

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