Understanding Queen Excluders
Purpose and Function
Queen excluders serve as a perforated barrier between the brood chamber and the honey super in a beehive. The primary function of a queen excluder is to prevent the queen bee from laying eggs in the honey supers. Since the queen is larger than worker bees, the excluder allows workers to pass through and store honey in the honey supers, while restricting the queen to the brood nest below.
Types of Queen Excluders
Some of the most common types of excluders include:
- Wire queen excluders: Made from rigid wire, these excluders are durable and easy to clean. However, they may cause damage to the bees’ wings as they pass through.
- Plastic queen excluders: Lightweight and relatively inexpensive, but can warp over time and may be more difficult to clean.
- Zinc queen excluders: While these excluders are durable and weather-resistant, they may be heavier and more prone to causing injury to the bees as they pass through.
Ultimately, the choice of a queen excluder will depend on the beekeeper’s preferences and specific needs when it comes to managing their hives.
Swarming Behavior in Honeybees
Swarming is a natural process in the life cycle of honey bee colonies. It occurs when a colony’s population grows too large for its current hive, and the original colony divides into two or more new colonies. Each swarm usually contains a queen, worker bees, and a few drones.
Causes and Triggers
Swarming is primarily triggered by overcrowding and limited space in the hive. A colony’s population increases rapidly, especially during the warm months, and without adequate space, the workers begin preparations for the great split. They start by getting the queen ready for flight. They keep her egg-laying to a minimum, which helps to shrink her abdomen, making it easier for her to fly.
Signs of Swarming
Some common signs include queen cells, increased worker population, and noticeable agitation within the colony.
Queen cells are large, peanut-shaped structures in which a new queen develops, and their presence is a clear indication that the colony is preparing to swarm. There are two types of queen cells, namely swarm cells and supersedure cells. Swarm cells are found on the edge of the comb extending downward, while supersedure cells extend from the center of a comb. If you find swarm cells in your hive, then the colony is gearing up to split.
Bearding is another sign, where bees hang outside the entrance in a cluster to cool off when the hive gets too warm.
Beekeepers can utilize methods such as adding extra honeycomb, improving ventilation, or re-queen older colonies.
Using Queen Excluders to Prevent Swarming
When a colony begins to swarm, a group of workers will leave the hive first. The queen will join the swarm but isn’t the bee heading the move, so she won’t be the first to leave the hive. If the queen can’t leave, the group of workers will fly out, realize that the queen isn’t with them and fly back to the hive. That’s how the queen excluder becomes useful.
Whereas the queen excluder usually goes between the brood box and supers, it can be inserted between the bottom board and the brood box above the entrance. That way, even if the colony decides to swarm, the queen can’t get through, which will keep them from leaving. The problem is that it also keeps the drones from leaving the hive, so this method is not a long-term solution. Use the queen excluder to buy you an extra week rather than as a conclusive strategy.
Alternative Swarm Prevention Methods
Swarm Traps and Bait Hives
Swarm traps and bait hives are excellent ways to provide your bees with an attractive location for a swarm to rest. A bait hive is simply an empty hive setup that can attract a swarm. Swarm traps are similar, but they are designed to capture swarms before they take up residence in an unwanted location.
To encourage swarming bees to choose your trap or bait hive, you can use a variety of lures, such as pheromone lures or lemongrass oil, which mimics the scent of a queen bee. Additionally, placing the trap or hive in an ideal location, such as in a shaded area with decent airflow, will increase your chances of successfully catching a swarm.
Hive Management Techniques
Proper hive management can greatly reduce the risk of swarming. Ensuring that the bees have enough space in their hive can be accomplished by adding more brood boxes or honey supers as the colony expands. This allows the bees to have ample room to grow and store plenty of nectar and pollen, reducing the urge to swarm.
Another technique is to remove queen cells from the hive. If you miss any of them, the colony could swarm with the new queen, even if you clip the wings of the old one.
There are other swarm prevention methods, such as the Demaree method, which involves the strategic separation of the queen from the worker bees, preventing the development of new queen cells.
Queen excluders can only delay swarming, not prevent it. If you need a few extra days to get some extra boxes together to make colony splits, an excluder will be helpful. You may have more success clipping your queen’s wings, but even that is also temporary since the colony can still swarm with a virgin queen.
Beekeepers should explore alternative techniques to prevent swarming more successfully.