A Piping Queen – Virgin or Mated?

SHORT VERSION: I heard what I believe is the sound of a new queen piping, but I was unable to spot the queen because, most likely, she hasn’t been inseminated by drones yet, and thus probably looks like every other bee in the hive (she doesn’t get big until she mates and begins laying). If a queen bee doesn’t mate within about 20 days, then it’s game over. Tomorrow is Day 20 for this queen. Bloody great.

LONG VERSION: Well, here comes another learning experience.

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)


I checked on a hive yesterday that was queenless and in the process of capping a supersedure queen cell a month ago. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I discovered no signs of brood and no queen that I could see — but I did hear a high pitched piping squeak from one frame that sounded similar to something I recorded back in 2011 (see Piping From Inside The Hive):

I followed the sound of the piping on the frame for five minutes but couldn’t spot the queen. It was maddening. So I carefully put the frame and everything else back the way I found it so I could ponder over what might be happening in that hive. So let us ponder…

I found a supersedure cell full of royal jelly on July 1, probably about three days old. It looked something like this:

Cropped in shot of a supersedure queen cell with a larva floating in creamy white royal jelly. Hmm...

Cropped in shot of a supersedure queen cell with a larva floating in creamy white royal jelly. Hmm…


Queen cells are usually capped on Day 8 after the egg is laid, which would be July 6.

A capped supersedure cell.  Not the greatest view, but these things don't always look like the do in text books.

A capped supersedure cell. Not the greatest view, but these things don’t always look like they do in textbooks.


Eight days later (Day 16) the queen should emerge — July 16. After that, the queen has a maximum of 20 days to mate — that would be August 5. If she hasn’t mated by Day 20, she becomes a drone-layer or more or less a useless queen, a dud. Today is August 4. Old Queenie better hurry up and get it done because she has about a day, may two, before she hits her best-before date. Perhaps she’s already mated but hasn’t began to lay yet. I don’t know.

The weather for the past month has been cold and cloudy. We had a few sunny periods here and there, but overall, it wasn’t what I’d call prime mating weather. There’s a fair chance she didn’t mate. Only in the past three days have temperatures gone above 25°C (77°F). Maybe she got out and mated then and maybe that’s what all the piping is about. Maybe I couldn’t spot her (despite my eyes being glued to the area of the piping) because she hasn’t begun laying yet and her abdomen hasn’t extended. That’s a whole lotta maybes adding up to I don’t know.

What was that piping about, anyway? I thought only newly emerged queens piped like that, but there’s no way she’s that young. All the capped brood from a month ago have emerged, so any supersedure queens would have emerged long before now. There’s a queen in there somewhere. Why is she piping? Why can’t I spot her? Or was that even a queen bee piping? Do worker bees pipe and quack like a queen? I don’t know.

Honey bees eagerly marching back into the hive and scenting the entrance. (August 3, 2015.)

Honey bees eagerly marching back into the hive and scenting the entrance. (August 3, 2015.)


The only observations I’ve made that might point towards a mated queen is the behaviour of the bees in the hive. Here’s what I’ve observed:

1) Foragers bringing in pollen. From pollen they make baby bee food, queen food, royal jelly. There’s no need to bring in pollen unless they have a queen. Right?

2) The bees are calm and cool, docile, easy to handle and moving like they have a purpose, not buzzy and defensive like some queenless bees can be.

3) After the last inspection, I placed the inner cover in front of the bottom entrance and the stragglers on the cover, once they got a whiff of what I hope is queen pheromone from inside the hive, immediately began to march back into the hive and scent the entrance. That’s a reorientation reflex in the bees, so it doesn’t necessarily mean a queen is in the hive, but it might.

So now what do I do?

Is a 20-day-old mated queen hiding in this hive somewhere? (August 3, 2015.)

Is a 20-day-old mated queen hiding in this hive somewhere? (I also added a honey super with some frames of honey because a little honey never hurt no one.) (August 3, 2015.)


I’m going to leave the hive alone for another week and then check for fresh brood. If the theoretical new queen hasn’t began laying by then, I’m pretty sure I have a doomed colony. If I don’t find any brood, I’ll add some open brood from another colony and see if the bees make a supersedure cell. Then I’ll know for sure they’re queenless. A new queen might not mate well near the end of the summer when most of the drones are being expelled. So I don’t know. If it comes to that, I might just combine the surviving bees into a another colony and be done with it. But if somehow the queen is alive and laying, I’ll throw in several frames of brood from my one healthy colony and feed them like crazy until fall and hope they’re strong enough to survive the winter.

Man oh man. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

August 19/15: Continued in The Piping Queen Revisited.

6 thoughts on “A Piping Queen – Virgin or Mated?

  1. What a puzzle you have! I listened to the recording and heard the high-pitched squeak, but it didn’t sound like any piping I’d ever heard. Not that it didn’t sound like piping, but usually, when my new queens pipe, they make a longer sound, then a few short ones. The squeak you recorded were more isolated. Very intriguing!

    Tom Seeley has observed how scouts pipe when just before a swarm takes off from its resting place to the hive. However, this obviously isn’t your case, and I don’t know if workers pipe for anything else.

    Bees bringing in pollen, though, is a very good sign. I’ve always heard that this is the sign of being queen-right or at least having a queen in the making.

    Your bad weather could very well have prevented mating. Fingers crossed for eggs soon!

  2. “There’s no need to bring in pollen unless they have a queen” – some beekeepers have found that their queen-less colonies still continue to bring in pollen (along with nectar), presumably because with no brood to look after the workers have nothing else to do. So while bringing pollen in is a good sign, it’s not a concrete signal that all is well.

  3. Other than finding fresh brood, I’m not convinced anything is a sure sign of a queen. Is there any other sure sign? Piping might be the only one.

    I spoke to other beekeepers at the time who said pollen is a good sign. But I’ve seen queenless colonies fill frames with nectar and pollen until they died. I’ve seen queenless colonies that were calm. In other order words, I’ve seen queenless colonies act like queenright colonies more than a few times.

    If I remember correctly, I was optimistic about this colony because the bees didn’t bring in pollen for a few weeks, and then they suddenly began to bring in pollen.

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