Is queen clipping cruel?

Synopsis : Is clipping the queen a cruel and barbaric practice? Does it cause pain to the queen? Surely it’s a good way to stop swarming? This is an emotive and sometimes misunderstood topic. What do scientific studies tell us about clipped queens and swarming?


After the contention-free zone of the last couple of weeks I thought I’d write something about queen clipping.

This is a topic that some beekeepers feel very strongly about, claiming that it is cruel and barbaric, that it causes pain to the queen and – by damaging her – induces supersedure.

Advocates of queen clipping sometimes recommend it as a practice because it stops swarming and is a useful way to mark the queen 1.

I thought it would be worth exploring some of these claims, almost all of which I think are wrong in one way or another.

1002, 1003, 1004, 1005, er, where was I? Damn!

Here’s one I didn’t lose earlier – swarm with a clipped queen from the bee shed

I clip and mark my queens.

You can do what you want.

This post is not a recommendation that you should clip your queens. Instead, it’s an exploration of the claimed pros and cons of the practice, informed with a smattering of science to help balance the more emotional responses I sometimes hear.

By all means do what you want, but if you oppose the practice do so from an informed position.

Having considered things, I believe that the benefits to my bees outweigh the disadvantages.

And I deliberately used the word ‘bees’ rather than ‘me’ in the line above … for reasons that should become clear shortly.

What is queen clipping?

Bees have four wings. The forewings 2 are larger and provide the most propulsive power.

Each wing consists of a thin membrane supported by a system of veins. The veins – at least the larger veins – have a nerve and a trachea running along them. Remaining ‘space’ in the vein is filled with haemolymph as the veins are connected to the haemocele.

Queen ‘clipping’ involves using a sharp pair of scissors to remove a third to a half of just one of the forewings.

Done properly – by which I mean cutting enough from one wing only whilst not amputating anything else (!) – significantly impairs the ability of the queen to fly.

She will still attempt to fly but she will have little directional stability and is unable to fly any distance.

Easy to see

Easy to see – clipped and marked queen

It shouldn’t need stating 3 but it’s only sensible to clip the wing of a mated, laying queen.

Although you can mark virgin queens soon after emergence – before orientation and mating flights 4 – clipping her wing will curtail all mating activity 5.

How to clip the queen

If I know I want to mark and clip a queen I find my Turn and Mark cage, Posca pen and scissors. The cage is kept close to hand, the pen and scissors are left in a semi-shaded corner of the apiary.

Tools of the trade – Turn and Mark cage, Posca pen and sharp scissors

Then all you need to do is:

  • Find the queen, pick her up and place her in the cage. Leave the caged queen with the pen/scissors while the frame is returned to the hive 6.
  • Holding the cage in my left hand and scissors in my right I gently depress the plunger and wait until she reverses, lifting one forewing through the bars of the cage. At that point I depress the plunger a fraction more to hold her firmly in place.
  • Cut across the forewing to reduce its length by 1/3 to 1/2. Be scrupulously careful not to touch the abdomen with the scissors, or to sever a leg by accident 7.
  • Mark the queen with a single spot of paint on her thorax then leave the queen in the cage for a few minutes while the paint dries.
  • Return the queen to the hive. The simplest way to do this is to remove the plunger and lay the barrel of the cage on the top bars of the frame over a frame of brood. The workers will welcome her and, in due course, she’ll wander out and down into a seam of bees.

Returning a marked and clipped queen to a nuc

Don’t real beekeepers just hold the queen with their fingers?


Maybe I’m not a real beekeeper 😉

I prefer to cage the queen before clipping and marking her.

I wear nitrile or Marigold gloves (or one of each) to keep my fingers propolis free. If the gloves are sticky with propolis I don’t want this coating the queen. I also prefer to keep my scents and odour off the queen 8.

The other reason I prefer to cage the queen is to reduce the potential for damaging her with the scissors.

You’d have to be even more cackhanded than me 9 to pierce the abdomen of a caged queen with the scissors. In addition, her ability to raise a hind leg up and through the bars of the cage is restricted. In contrast, when held in the fingers, both these can be more problematic.

Mr Blobby goes beekeeping

Finally, briefly caging the queen allows me to use both my hands for other things – like completing the colony inspection without any risk of crushing the queen.

Yes, I could unglove before clipping and marking the queen, but it’s almost impossible to get nitriles back on if your hands are damp.

Does queen clipping stop swarming?


Is that it? Nothing more to say about swarming?

OK, OK 😉

If the queen is not clipped the colony will typically swarm on the first suitable day after the new queen cell(s) in the hive are sealed. The swarm bivouacs nearby, the scout bees find and select a suitable new nest site and the bivouacked swarm departs – often never to be seen again – to set up home.

I’ll return to the subsequent fate of the swarm at the end of this post.

A colony with a clipped queen usually swarms – by which I mean the queen and up to 75% of the workers leave the hive – several days after the new queen cell(s) is capped.

Ted Hooper 10 claims a colony headed by a clipped queen “swarm(s) when the first virgin queen is ready to emerge” 11. This is not quite the same as when the first virgin emerges.

Since queen development takes 16 days from the egg being laid this theoretically means you could conduct inspections on, at least, a fortnightly rota. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple as bees could choose an older larva to rear as a new queen.

Hooper has a page or so of discussion on why a 10 day inspection interval achieves a good balance between never losing a swarm and minimising the disturbance to the colony. 12.

What happens when a colony with a clipped queen swarms?

A clipped queen cannot fly, so when she leaves the hive with a swarm she crashes rather unmajesterially 13 to the ground.

In my experience there are two potential outcomes:

  • the bees eventually abandon her and return to the hive. Usually the queen will perish. They are still likely to swarm when the virgin queen(s) emerge. All together now … “queen clipping does not stop swarming”.
  • the queen climbs the leg of the hive stand and often ends up underneath the hive floor. The bees join her. In this case you can easily retrieve the swarm together with the clipped queen. Temporarily set aside the brood box and supers and knock the clustered bees from underneath the floor into a nuc box.

I spy with my little eye … a clipped queen that swarmed AND was abandoned by the bees. It’s a tough life.

Sometimes both the queen and the swarm re-enter the hive (or I return them to the hive). In my experience these queens often don’t survive, presumably being slaughtered by a virgin queen.

So that addresses the swarming issue 14. What about the more contentious aspect of queen clipping causing pain?

Do queens feel pain?

I discussed whether bees feel pain a couple of years ago. The studies on self-medication with morphine following amputation are relevant here. Those studies were on worker bees, but I’ve no reason to think queens would be any different 15. I’m not aware of more recent literature on pain perception by honey bees though it’s well outside my area of expertise, so I may have missed something.

Therefore, based upon my current understanding of the scientific literature, I do not think that worker bees feel pain and I’m reasonably confident that queens are also unlikely to feel pain.

It’s worth noting here that it’s easy to be anthropomorphic here, particularly since we (hopefully) all care about our bees. Saying that your bees are happy, or grumpy or in pain, because it’s a nice day, or raining or you’ve just cut her wing off, are classic examples of ascribing human characteristics to something that is non-human.

We might think like that 16 but it’s a dangerous trap to fall into.

Is clipping queens cruel and barbaric?

According to my trusty OED, cruel means “Of conditions, circumstances: Causing or characterized by great suffering; extremely painful or distressing.”

Therefore, if clipping a queen’s wing causes pain and distress then it should be considered a cruel practice.

I’ve discussed pain perception previously (see above). If bees, including queens, do not feel pain then clipping her wing cannot be considered as cruelty.

Someone who is barbaric is uncultured, uncivilised or unpolished … which surely couldn’t apply to any beekeepers? In the context of queen clipping it presumably means a practise known to cause pain and distress.

Having already dealt with pain that brings me to ‘distress’.

How might you determine whether a queen with a clipped wing is distressed?

Perhaps you could observe her after returning her to the colony? Does she run about wildly or does she settle back immediately and start laying again?

Returning a marked and clipped queen – no apparent distress, just calmly disappearing into a seam of bees

But, let’s take that question a stage further, how would you determine that it was the clipped wing that was the cause of the distress? 17

That pretty much rules out direct observation. Queens are naturally photophobic 18 so you’d need to use red light and an observation hive. I’m not aware that this has been done.

Instead, scientists have observed the performance of colonies headed by clipped and unclipped queens. I’d argue that this is a convenient and suitable surrogate marker for distress. You (or at least I) would expect that a queen that was in distress would perform less well – perhaps laying fewer eggs, heading a smaller colony that collected less honey etc.

Are clipped queens distressed? Is their performance impaired?

Which finally brings us to some science. I’ve found very little in the scientific literature about queen clipping, but there is one study dating back over 50 years from Dr I.W. Forster of the Wallaceville Animal Research Centre, Wellington, New Zealand 19. I can’t find a photo of Dr. Forster, but there’s an interesting archive of photos from the WARC provided online from the Upper Hutt City Library.

Wallaceville Animal Research Centre staff photo 1972. Presumably Dr. Forster is somewhere in the group.

The paper has a commendably short 37 word results and discussion section 😉  20

The study involved comparing performance of colonies headed by clipped or unclipped queens over three seasons (1968-1970), a total of 124 colony years. They 21 scored colony size (brood area), honey per hive (weight) and the the number of supersedures.

I’ll quote the single sentence in the results/discussion on honey production in its entirety:

There was no significant variation in honey production between hives headed by clipped and unclipped queens.

Forster 22 didn’t specifically comment on colony size/strength in the discussion. Had it differed significantly some convoluted explaining would have been needed to justify the similarity in honey production.

Comparative colony strength of colonies headed by clipped or unclipped queens.

And it doesn’t.

Each column represents the average number of frames of brood in 6-29 colonies headed by clipped or unclipped queens. Statistically there’s no also difference in this aspect of performance (entirely unsurprisingly).

Colonies headed by clipped queens are not impaired in strength or honey production, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the queen is probably not distressed.

Do clipped queens get superseded (more) frequently?

I suspect most beekeepers underestimate supersedure rates in their colonies.

I clipped and marked a queen last weekend. In early August last year my notes recorded her as ’BMCLQ’ i.e. a blue marked clipped laying queen 23. In mid/late April this year she was unmarked and unclipped … and stayed that way until it was warm enough to rummage through the hive properly.

She’s now a YMCLQ 24 and was clearly the result of a late season supersedure.

Every spring I find two or three unmarked queens in colonies. Sometimes it’s because I’d failed to find and mark them the previous season. More usually it’s because they have been superseded.

The Forster study recorded supersedure of clipped and unclipped queens. It varied from 10-25% across the two seasons tested (’68 and ’69) and was fractionally lower in the clipped queens (20% vs. 22.5%) though the difference was not significant.

So, to answer the question that heads this section … yes, clipped queens do get superseded 25. However, done properly they do not show increased levels of supersedure 26.

Let’s discuss swarming again

In closing let’s again consider the fate of swarms headed by clipped or unclipped queens.

If a colony with the clipped queen swarms the queen will either perish on the ground, or attempt to return to the hive. If the swarm abandons her they will return to the hive … but may swarm again when the first virgin emerges.

If she gets back to the hive she may be killed anyway by a virgin queen.

You might lose the queen, but you will have gained a few days.

If a colony with an unclipped queen swarms … they’re gone.

Yes, you might manage to intercept them when they’re bivouacked. Yes, they might end up in your bait hive. But, failing those two relatively unlikely events, you’ve lost both the queen and 50-75% of the colony.

What is the likely fate of these lost swarms?

They will probably perish … either by not surviving the winter in the first place, or from Varroa-transmitted viruses the following season.

Studies by Tom Seeley suggest that only 23% of natural swarms survive their first winter. Furthermore, the survival rates of previously managed colonies that are subsequently unmanaged – for example, the Gotland ‘Bond’ experiment – is less than 5%.

Let’s be generous … a lost swarm might have a 1 in 4 chance of surviving the winter, but its chances of surviving to swarm again are very slim.

Anecdotal accounts of ’a swarm occupying a hollow tree for years’ are common. I’m sure some are valid, but tens of thousands of swarms are probably lost every season.

Where does that number come from?

There are 50,000 beekeepers in the UK managing 250,000 colonies. On average I estimate I lose swarms from 5-10% of my colonies a season, and my swarm control is rigorous and reasonably effective 27. If there were over 25,000 swarms ‘lost’ a year in the UK I would not be surprised.

Free living colonies are not that common, strongly suggesting most perish.

Where do these ‘lost’ swarms go?

There are four obvious possibilities. They:

  1. voluntarily occupying a bait hive and become managed colonies
  2. occupy a hollow tree or similar ‘natural’ void
  3. set up a new colony in an ‘unnatural’ void like the roof space of a children’s nursery or the church tower
  4. fail to find a new nest site and perish
Natural comb

A colony settled here and subsequently perished

Of these, the first means that it’s likely the colony will be managed for pests and disease, so their longer term survival chances should be reasonably good.

In contrast, the survival prospects for unmanaged colonies are bleak. They will almost certainly die of starvation or disease.

What about the lost swarm that occupies the loft space in the nursery or the church tower? Whether they survive or not is a moot point (and the same arguments used for ‘bees in trees’ apply here as well). What is more important is that they potentially cause problems for the nursery or the church … all of which can be avoided, or certainly reduced, if the queen is clipped.

And if you conduct a timely inspection regime.

Why I clip my queens

Although it is convenient to reduce the frequency of colony inspections, that is not the main reason I clip my queens.

I clip my queens to help keep my worker population together, either to increase honey production or to provide good strong colonies for making nucs (or queen rearing).

This has the additional benefit of not imposing my swarms and bees on anyone else. Whilst I love my bees, others may not.

An additional, and not insignificant, benefit is that the prospects for survival of a ‘lost’ swarm are very low.

By reducing the loss of swarms I’m “saving the bees”.

More correctly of course, I’m preventing the loss of an entire colony. I think clipping queens is therefore an example of responsible beekeeping.

I also think queen clipping is acceptable as I’ve seen no evidence – from my own beekeeping or in the literature – that it is detrimental to the queen or the colony.

Thou shalt not kill

Finally, there are some that argue you should never harm or kill a bee. I have two questions in response to that view;

  • What do you do with a queen heading up a truly psychotic colony? Do you kill her and replace her or do you put up with the aggravation and make the area around the hive a ‘no go zone’ for anyone not wearing a beesuit?
  • How many beekeepers can honestly say that no bees are harmed when returning frames during an inspection, or putting heavy supers back on a hive? 28

I would have no hesitation in killing and replacing a queen heading an aggressive colony.

Again, I think that’s responsible beekeeping.

Similarly, although I’m as careful and gentle as I can be when conducting inspections or returning supers, to think that no bees are ever injured or killed is fantasy beekeeping.


This is an emotive topic and I’ve written far more than I’d intended – that’s due to a couple of days of rain and the ‘expectant father’ wait for my new queens to start laying. I could have written half as much again.

The time spent writing meant I’ve not done an exhaustive literature search. I know that Brother Adam wrote in 1969 that he’d clipped queens for over 50 years without noticing any disadvantages. I realised during the week that my American Bee Journal subscription has lapsed so I’ve not managed to go through back issues, though I have searched almost 30 years of correspondence on Bee-L. If an ABJ turns up more relevant information I’ll revisit the subject.


  1. Left wing = odd year, right wing = even year … and, unlike paint, it cannot wear away. I’m not going to discuss this further as I also consider queen marking should be an aid to queen finding. And this isn’t.
  2. Confused already? Please try to keep up!
  3. But I will anyway.
  4. Without reportedly reducing mating success rates, though this is not something I’ve done.
  5. I’m not sure whether she then automatically becomes a drone laying queen, or if the colony disposes of her. Anyone?
  6. Assuming it’s not a cold day I sometimes complete the hive inspection at this point.
  7. See below.
  8. Delightful though they might be – at least at the beginning of a hard day’s beekeeping on a hot day!
  9. And there’s not a lot of leeway.
  10. And, let’s face it, who am I to question such an authority?
  11. Ted Hooper, Guide to Bees and Honey.
  12. I’m not going to regurgitate it here and recommend you read it.
  13. My spellchecker tells me that isn’t a word. It should be.
  14. Time for another chorus … “queen clipping does not stop swarming”.
  15. And, from an evolutionary standpoint, I think there’s even less chance that a queen would have evolved the ability to feel pain. They live in a totally protected environment for 99.9% of their lives.
  16. And I’m as guilty as the next beekeeper … e.g my bees are ”happy and calm” because there’s a good nectar flow from the OSR.
  17. Rather than the prior handling or the subsequent observation, for example.
  18. You’ll usually find them on the reverse of the next frame you lift out of the hive … if they’re on that frame at all.
  19. I. W. Forster (1971) Effect of clipping queen honey bees’ wings, New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 14:535-537.
  20. This is fractionally less than 1% of the length of the results and discussion of my most recent paper. I need to be more succinct.
  21. It’s a single author paper, but others are acknowledged. These days authorship is rightly more inclusive.
  22. et no-one else at all.
  23. I’m colourblind, so the colour has no bearing on the year. It just happens to be a colour I can easily see … and/or was the only working Posca pen in my bag.
  24. Yellow etc etc.. The blue pen has stopped working.
  25. For those following very closely it’s worth noting that colony performance was not scored for superseded colonies. Well done!
  26. ‘Done properly’ of course, because a misplaced snip or stab could cause all sorts of damage and the resulting queen would be quickly replaced by the colony.
  27. And probably better than average … though it doesn’t feel like that as I watch them disappear over the hedge.
  28. And let’s not get into a topical Roe vs. Wade argument about squidging queen cells, or forking out drone brood.

18 thoughts on “Is queen clipping cruel?

    1. David Post author

      Hello Clive

      Commendably brief and to the point … and, as I said, none of the above is a recommendation.

      Far better to simply state “I don’t clip my queens” rather than “I don’t clip my queens because it causes them pain and results in supersedure”. Nothing wrong with the first statement, but I believe the second is erroneous.


  1. vince poulin

    One comment? Hmmmm a Roe vs Wade sensitive discussion??? My thoughts – I have not clipped queen wings nor have I marked queens until – this year. I have yet to clip a wing but started marking queens. I haven’t marked up until now because I simply love the natural beauty of a queen. I enjoy greatly the images of queens and retain all in a photo-jounal “queen-catalog”. I countless times go back to enjoy their unique features and colours. This year for the first time – yellow spots adorn them. It comes from having more than one hive and wanting to get through inspections with confidence and less disturbance (if that is possible) to a hive. Seeing a queen quickly makes an enormous difference in the amount of handling needed to be satisfied of the status of a hive. I’m actually very good at spotting queens but nothing compares to the swiftness made possible by a marked queen. Wing clipping is something I have not done but your arguments for why you clip are valid. I have had sufficient swarms despite good swarm control to see that I just don’t want my bees hanging off a neighbours eve or tree. I’ve seen two swarms leave. An awesome but scary sight. The noise of a whirl wind. The sky fills with bees – it darkens. They quickly settle but never in a place where I can retrieve them. All too high up. A feeling of shame comes over me – my bees – bees that can cause harm. I don’t like it. For me – like marking – time to reconsider. I recently committed “Carnolian Genocide”. I had a very hot hive that came from a Carnolian queen whose own hive was just as aggressive. Significantly aggressive in contract to others all gentile and easy to handle. I planned to re-queen the hives but fate had it one became a laying worker hive. The queen became infertile. I had thousands of drones on the loose and soon to begin queen rearing. There was no way I wanted those drones to mate with my virgin queens nor any other bee keepers newly raised queens. I sacrificed all of them. The original hive I have kept but re-queened after removing all eggs/larvae and pupae the hive contained. Pain? For sure. Some BMP’s cause pain – but mostly to the bee keeper who respects every bee and queen produced.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Vince

      No need to feel shame about watching a swarm disappear into the tallest tree in the neighbourhood … they usually only get big enough to swarm with good management and being sited in a suitable location. It’s a wonderful sight watching a colony swarm, but one I’d really prefer not to impose on my neighbour.

      Remember … there’s no need to see the Q to know she’s present. If there are eggs and no queen cells all is good 🙂 I went through half a dozen colonies this afternoon and only remember seeing one queen. However, I know that all are queenright because I saw eggs and know they hadn’t swarmed. I really think the benefit of queen marking is when you need to find the queen, for example for some types of swarm control. It’s so much nicer to find her after a single pass through a busy box, rather than having to divide the frames into pairs, wait, go through each pair looking at the interface and/or leaving them longer and seeing which pair is busiest/calmest.

      Off to look at some more colonies tomorrow and will be removing some drone comb from a colony with poor temperament in the hope that they don’t spread their genes far and wide.


  2. Willy Aspinall

    David , may I add a caution note about the following statement:
    “The study involved comparing performance of colonies headed by clipped or unclipped queens over three seasons (1968-1970), a total of 124 colony years.”
    In your defence, you are quoting Forster correctly. (As an aside, Forster says his two experiments involved 12 and 60 colonies, so the basis for his 124 colony-years statement is not obvious – to me).
    However, my point is any assessment of an effect in N test cases (here colonies) over X years is not the same as one test case over XN years. To illustrate with an extreme example, investigating 124 colonies for one year is not the same as investigating one colony for 124 years (assuming one could achieve that) — weather/climate variations over more than a century would be hugely different from the weather during the one-year experiment.
    I came across this statistical fallacy many years ago: France had operated fifty-something civil nuclear stations for about 30 years without encountering a single seismic incident. This was interpreted as indicating the earthquake hazard was less than 1 -in- 1500 per year. The catch is, such earthquakes occur in France ON AVERAGE about every 800 years, so the 30-year sample (of 50 stations) was not adequate for quantifying the real annualised risk level.

    1. David Post author

      Hello Willy

      I’d need to spend a bit more time thinking about this … I’m writing this after a very long day of beekeeping so my stats are probably even worse than usual.

      The 124 colony years is almost certainly 12 + 60 x 2 minus the colonies that superseded and that were subsequently excluded from further analysis (~20% of them, which would be about right).

      It’s important to note that the setup of the experiment was different to the “French earthquakes” you describe. In Forster’s study each year involved colonies headed by both clipped or unclipped queens. The presence of control and test subjects simultaneously means that the seasonal variation could be ignored – for example, the 1969 samples are all less strong than those of the previous two years, presumably because the weather was worse. However, the similarity in the performance of the control (unclipped) and clipped queens is striking, and is very similar in good years (’67 & ’68) and poor (’69). The author doesn’t publish a hive by hive breakdown so it’s impossible to any detailed analysis of the figures.

      As Mark Twain (possibly) said … “Lies, damned lies and statistics” 😉


  3. Elaine Robinson

    Hi David, like you I clip and mark all my queens (except any I offer to friends – their choice). I do so for the reasons you’ve stated and I do it in exactly the same way. I’ve tried holding the queen & id say results in balling or queen feinting in around a third of cases, adding distress to the queen and the workers. I use a cage device similar to yours and never had a balling incident. I only clip in the spring after she’s had her first winter and the bees are her own and really bonded with her; I’ve found in her first season of emergence my bees do not tend to swarm, her pheromones are high .

    As my bees are in out apiaries as well at home I can’t be in several places at once after a spell of heavy rain. For me it works and is kind to my neighbours, the public as well as the bees. And less stressful for me! Ive wondered about the pain aspect but I could find no direct evidence of her feeling pain or suffering, so I was interested to read your post. Also observing her on the comb afterwards she diligently carries on her duties and seems wholly relaxed.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Elaine

      I don’t know how many bees I’ve marked over the seasons, but it’s quite a few. I discussed the only instance of feinting I’ve ever seen last year. I picked her up but she’d gone into a swoon before I’d got her into the cage. In contrast, I’ve had a few queens balled, usually because they’ve been released into the brood box suddenly … or, by accident, released into the wrong brood box. Oops!

      Using those turn and mark cages I can let her calm down (which probably counts as anthropomorphism) after clipping/marking and then gently place the cage on the top bars, so letting her wander out at her own pace. I’ve rarely bothered looking at her on the frame after re-introducing her but – like you – haven’t noticed any strange or agitated behaviour when I do. It’s such a hassle-free way to do it that I have complete confidence that she will be OK. One less thing to worry about 😉

      I’m still clipping and marking the last few I missed at the end of last season, but prefer to do it as soon as I know she’s a good ‘un. This usually means having seen a laid up frame or two of sealed brood. Although they are easier to find in the spring and you can be sure she’s headed an overwintered colony, I like the convenience of a marked queen if/when I’m doing any end of season uniting.

      Hope you’re having a good season.

  4. Elaine Robinson

    Hi David, agree I always mark my queens soon after mating. It’s just clipping I don’t do til spring.
    I’ve even tried marking virgins last year before mating. With success and they mated fine. I had one queen that I’ve now given to a friend that I marked as a virgin last spring with a green pen as it was the only one I had with me. I marked her white after mating and when her mark rubs off you can see the green showing through 😊 .
    Would be good to understand more about pros and cons of marking virgins. Many commercial beekeepers do it but it seems a ‘no-no’ in the beekeeping books. One for another day / blog!
    Best wishes, I enjoy your weekly posts

    1. David Post author

      Hi Elaine

      Not sure I’d be able to squeeze out 3000+ words on the pros and cons of marking virgin queens. Perhaps that’s a good reason to write a bit less 😉 … however, I’m unlikely to give it a try, not least because (even in mini-nucs) I try and not interfere with queens between emergence and mating. I think the large-scale commercial operations might do it with incubator-emerged queens, before introducing them to mini-nucs. My incubator is hardly large-scale, but I am hoping to start using it in the next week or three.

      I posed a question in one of the footnotes about the fate of clipped virgin queens. Do they become drone layers or are they ejected by the colony? No-one has answered (after all, it’s a rather esoteric corner of beekeeping). I think they become drone layers as I have a vague recollection of a scientific paper using this technique. Again … not something I’m unlikely to try, so I won’t be able to write about it with any authority.

      Delighted you enjoy the posts 🙂


  5. Mary Marriott


    I do clip and mark my queens (when I can catch them before they run around the other side of the frame that is!)

    I learn a lot from your articles and they always make me smile so thank you very much for taking the time to write.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Mary

      Pleased you enjoy the posts.

      I checked a big, very strong, hive a couple of days ago. My notes told me to “find and mark Q”. I’d failed in the last 3 visits and wasn’t hopeful. She was on the underside of the queen excluder and so I found her within 10 seconds of opening the box. Little things like that make you forget all those failed fumblings when she runs around the back of the frame, or is dropped in the grass, or flies off in disgust.


  6. Kate B

    A colony with a clipped queen usually swarms – by which I mean the queen and up to 75% of the workers leave the hive – several days after the new queen cell(s) is capped.
    Good morning David, and thank you for your weekly reflections, always thought-provoking.
    On rereading I noticed the above paragraph. I am bemused as to why the swam instinct would be delayed by ‘several days’ with a clipped queen.
    I am currently coaxing a swarm into a box from a colony that had capped cells 3 days earlier, and a clipped queen (which I did not spit 3 days ago 🙄). Has she managed to flutter to the nearby bivouac, I wonder?
    Or does the ‘several days’ refer to the emergence of the first virgin queen to emerge?
    Thank you!

    1. David Post author

      Hi Kate

      I don’t think the Q makes the decision about when to swarm. I think the workers drive this process. Perhaps a clipped queen is more resistant to their goading to leave the hive? Whilst the appearance of an emerged virgin Q is likely to trigger swarming by a clipped Q, they often go before the virgin emerges (as hinted by the quote from Ted Hooper). Quite why this is is unclear … maybe the workers can judge the new Q is about to emerge and increase their goading?

      If the Q is clipped properly she won’t be able to fly any distance … the bivouac position is probably determined by where the Q lands and I’ve found clipped queens with small swarms of bees on the ground in front of the hive (most of the bees had returned, perhaps in disgust that they’d only got a metre or two away?!). In my experience, if you find a bivouac’d swarm there will almost always be a queen in or near it.


  7. David Webster

    Hi David, another fascinating post thank you.
    I have been a waverer on clipping queen’s as when I tried it she was quickly superceded – in hindsight this may have have happened anyway. But you post was well debated and I am going to try again.
    On another point, you mentioned swarms returning to the hive (with or without the queen), prior to departure the workers gorge themselves with honey for their task at the new site. With a returning swarm what happens to all that honey, do they simply return it to the supers ? 🤔

    1. David Post author

      Hi David

      I don’t know the answer to your question I’m afraid. About 40% by weight of a swarm is honey. If you assume a large prime swarm might contain 30,000 bees, the weight of the bees would be ~3 kg and they would also carry ~1.2 kg of honey. There might be ways to use hive monitors to determine whether this was ‘returned’ if the swarm ended up back in the same hive, but I’m not aware of anyone doing this. If it wasn’t put back in comb the bees would have to either use it or feed it to other bees.

      Of course, if the swarm actually ends up underneath the open mesh floor, which is not at all unusual with a clipped Q, then none of it is ‘returned’.


  8. Nick

    Do you ever consider the music/communication they make with wings? And the creatures that are working tirelessly for your harvest are also alive and conscious, and have a full life experience?

    Or is such morality too much a pest?

    1. David Post author

      Hello Nick

      I think your concerns are misplaced. There’s no evidence that queens (or workers to my knowledge) communicate with their wings. They use their thoracic flight muscles to generate vibrations (and warmth), but the wings do not move.

      They’re also not ‘working tirelessly for [my] harvest’ … but are instead foraging to provide for the brood being reared and the winter ahead. I exchange the honey for sugar and, simultaneously, protect them from pests and pathogens that would otherwise almost inevitably quickly kill the colony. They are certainly alive and conscious, but they are not sentient and so presumably have no comprehension of what a full life experience is.

      A recent study showed that feral colonies on average survive no more than 32 weeks. Perhaps they get a ‘full life experience’, but it’s not a very long one. Queen clipping protects the environment from lost swarms that have a 90+% likelihood of perishing annually, and protects the public from being frightened or stung from lost swarms.

      I’m happy to discuss the morality of queen clipping, but you have to consider all the implications and consequences of lost swarms. These include the survival of the lost swarm and the incidence of anaphylaxis in the population.



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