honey bee myths queen bees

Do clipped wings prevent swarming? Not often

A queen with other bees. For best results, do not clip the wings of your queen.

Wing clipping is meant to reduce the possibility of swarming, but a clipped queen may soon be superseded by the workers that see her as defective.

The myth goes something like this: If the queen’s wings are clipped she won’t be able to fly. If the queen is unable to fly, the swarm will return to the hive and stay with her.

In truth, the clipped queen may attempt to fly anyway, then fall to the ground and be unable to get back home. The swarm will return home briefly, but the situation becomes frustrating to the colony that is programmed to swarm. it will soon try again—often taking off with a recently hatched virgin queen instead of the mated queen.

In addition, clipped queens are often superseded more quickly than those with whole wings. The workers probably see these queens as “defective” and work to replace them as soon as possible.

In other cases, clipped queens have been allowed to remain with no apparent consequence. You cannot tell in advance how the workers will react to an imperfect queen. They may accept her for a while before they decide to replace her.

In any case, clipping is not nearly as popular as it once was. For a time, clipping was even used as a way of dating the age of the queen. The right two wings were clipped on even years or the left two on odd years, but this practice has been replaced with a dot of colored paint or a number.

Clipping performed by an inexperienced beekeeper can end in disaster, especially if the beekeeper accidentally nicks the thorax or snips a leg. It can happen so fast! So leave your queen intact and find some other way to reduce swarming.

Rusty Burlew
Honey Bee Suite

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  • Is there a way of knowing one is buying bee products from non-clipped queens? I really want to get my hands on some. Can any body give an answer?

  • Hi Rusty,

    I am interested in your assertion that clipped queens are often superseded more quickly than unclipped queens. Do you know if any research been carried out on this subject? The rate that queens are being superseded is currently a hot topic of concern and debate at my local BKA. It is being said that whereas in the past queens would often live for four or more years, we are now finding that queens rarely live more than 2 years. Most of the BKA queens are clipped. Any thoughts?

    • Wow. I thought wing clipping went out with tanging. Although the supersedure rate with clipped wings has been debated for over 100 years (see American Bee Journal Vol. 20, p. 219, 1892) virtually no one believes it does any good. Even common resources (like the ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture) assert that it does nothing to avert swarms except delay them a few days. And even if it did, why would anyone deliberately mutilate their queen?

      In my opinion, the primary reason for the short lifespan of our queens is inbreeding and a shallow gene pool, the secondary reason is the build-up of toxic chemicals in the hive, and the tertiary reason is honey bee diseases. Remember, most workers and drones live a short time and so are less likely to be affected by the long-term effects of toxics and diseases. It all makes sense.

      • Thank you for your reply. This is one of the many differences between the USA and Britain, perhaps, as in Britain queen clipping is widely advocated and practiced (not tanging though!). As I beginner, I have no opinion worth expressing on this matter—that will come later.

        • Meriel,

          That’s one reason I like to know where folks are writing from. Still, I think of my UK readers as very current on technique, at least the ones that frequently write, so I’m surprised to hear wing clipping is prevalent.

          • And some of us prefer to watch carefully “at the hive entrance” and try not to mess with the bees needlessly. Bees were bees before humans were human.

            Some of us in medicine practice the same way as we practice beekeeping. Oxnatbees (a not treating group in UK) has hive survival similar to the treatment beekeepers.

            I love reading your articles, Rusty.


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