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Queen piping, quacking, and tooting

Honey bee queens make specific sounds during certain periods of their development. These sounds have been described by humans in various ways—including bleating, mewing, croaking, and honking—but some consensus has been reached on what they mean.

All these terms describe forms of queen piping. Piping is the sound made by a virgin queen while she is still in her cell, or the sound she makes once she is freely roaming about the colony.

Since queen piping occurs more commonly when there is more than one queen in a hive, it is believed that the piping is a signal that a virgin is ready to fight for the honor of being the one-and-only. During swarm season, workers hearing the sound may try to keep the virgins separate in order to have more than one queen available in case she’s needed.

Mated queens, too, sometimes pipe when they are released into a colony. This also may signal that she is ready to head the colony and all would be wise to agree.

Piping occurs rarely, but when it happens it is truly an amazing sound. The first time I heard it I thought something—something totally non-bee related—must be in there. Even though I knew about piping, and realized what I was hearing, it was still a surprise. It’s amazingly loud.

For those who are musically inclined, queen piping is said to be G-sharp or A-flat and occurs for about one second followed by a string of quarter-second pulses. Queens still in their cells make the short pulses without the preliminary long toot, which is referred to as quacking.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Queen piping is a form of communication.
Are your virgin queens warning each other? © Rusty Burlew.

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Comments

Phillip
Reply

I think I heard piping coming from the bottom of my requeened hive today (requeened a few months ago). I wonder what that means.

I tried to record it. I’ll take a listen to the recording tomorrow.

Frank G, Wroe
Reply

I’ve just had a massive bumblebee in my kitchen going mad at the window to get out making this very loud piping/ shrieking noise, I got it in a jam jar and let it go outside and it flew away, headwind somewhere Very fast.

Alice
Reply

Hello,

This post has really cleared up the mystery of the “duck-bees” I have living in my loft, above my bedroom. They have been quacking continuously now (and incredibly loudly) for around 7-8 weeks, is this a normal amount of time for such behaviour? Are they likely to be doing any damage in the loft? Do you know if they’re likely to be settled their permanently or only temporarily? After seeing your post about the research regarding mobile phones affecting bees, I can’t help but wonder whether that may have something to do with their continuous quacking.

Any response would be greatly appreciated, I’m fascinated to find out more about the quacking bees that are in my loft!

Rusty
Reply

Alice,

I don’t know what is in your loft, but I don’t think it is piping virgins. Seven to eight weeks is a very long time. Queen piping usually lasts a few days, perhaps, or maybe a week. Have you seen the bees in your loft? Do you know that they are honey bees? Whatever the case, I doubt it has anything to do with cell phones . . . just my opinion.

Robert L. Quarterman
Reply

Rusty,

I enjoyed hearing singing queens for the first time last year on the way back home from a queen retrieval trip that I made to South Georgia. I bought 5 mated queens and 10 virgins with two freebies thrown in for good measure. I was startled but delighted also to hear les chanteuse give me their challenging concerts and I was exhilarated to have the privilege to experience it at all. These lofty monarchs lifted their voices high and seemed to be challenging each other for the 3 or so hours that I rode with them. I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t listen to the radio or cd player at all on the return trip. My guess is that they sensed each others presence and that they were strutting their queen stuff for their competitors to contemplate! To me this is just another positive reinforcement to me for the decision to work with bees at all as they have given me many more delightful experiences than dreadful ones, so far. Robert L. Quarterman

Rusty
Reply

Robert,

Great story! Thank you.

William H N Fleming
Reply

This is the second time I have heard a recording of queens piping; the first was some thirty years ago that were recorded by Ted Hooper NBD brilliant well done that beekeeper.

Nigel in UK.

LauraH
Reply

I had a hive (package) lose its queen this spring, and saw several capped queen cells last week. Went in to check on it this week and saw two hatched queen cells, then heard one piping! Very cool. Thanks for your article.

Rusty
Reply

It does sound like a pigeon.

Sandi
Reply

I heard this for the first time last year! My husband didn’t hear it, so I thought I imagined it. Later in the year we purchased two mated queens and while they were hanging out in the paper bag together, we both heard them! That’s when I knew what I had heard a couple months before was in fact piping. Amazing sound from such a tiny insect.

Rusty
Reply

Sandi,

It’s really cool, I agree.

MJ
Reply

Am I getting this right- virgin queens will pipe/quack while still in the queen cell, before emerging? Because that would be awesome and crazy!

Rusty
Reply

MJ,

That’s correct. They seem to speak to each other, or perhaps threaten each other.

Donna
Reply

absolutely amazing creatures

Chris Morris
Reply

I just released a queen from a cage and she started piping like crazy just before I released her. It didnt seem to go well. Maybe there was another queen in the hive. Anyway if you want to hear queen piping. (which I assume this is) Here’s a link. Ignore the visuals – I was trying to get my iphone mic close to the queen cage.

http://metricktv.com/_content/videos/Bees2017/BeeQueenMadnessPipingAudio.mp4

And video of her release http://metricktv.com/_content/videos/Bees2017/BeeQueenMadnessPipingAudio.mp4

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

Yes! That’s piping. Good audio, but I think both of the links are the same.

Chris Morris
Reply

Sorry – This is actually the video of her out of the cage and getting attacked I think.

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

No, that doesn’t look good. I think you’re right about another queen being in there.

Heather Wunderlich
Reply

Would one ever pipe from an emergency queen cell? I heard it 3 days ago from outside the hive! Did a regular hive inspection today and saw an emergency queen cell in the center of the frame. Who would she be warning in that case?

Rusty
Reply

Heather,

Sure, she would pipe to warn anyone out there. She doesn’t know she’s in an emergency cell and may be the only queen around. So she just pipes away!

Jeremy
Reply

I started my first split with an eq cell. On day 28 (from day i quess eq cell was laid) I put in a frame with eggs on it. I had read this was a good way to see if you were queenless. Checked it today (day 31) and they had made more eq cells. I figured my split had failed when I heard one quack! Couldn’t find one egg or her.

Why would they make eq cell if she was there?
Could she be mated?
How long should I wait before I combine this hive with old hive?

Thanks in advance…

Rusty
Reply

Jeremy,

So eq means what? Emergency queen? I’m guessing here. I’m not sure I’m following you, but quacking is usually done while the virgin queen is still in her cell. She may do it after she’s released, but I usually hear it from within the cell. So if she hasn’t emerged yet, I’m not surprised the bees built more queen cells. I doubt she’s mated, even if she’s emerged. You can figure as much as two to three weeks after emergence before she’s mated, although it can be as little as eight days. You can combine any time, if that’s what you want to do.

Gerard Brach
Reply

OK folks I have an 11 week old [colony] with a queen who has been doing a decent job. Yesterday when checking out the frames I heard piping, it seemed to come from a new queen cell. What are my choices? Let the bees do their thing and not interfere or move the new piping cell with a couple of good frames to a new hive or do the same with the original queen?

Thank you in advance I am new to this

Rusty
Reply

Gerard,

You can’t answer that until you know if you still have the original queen or not. If she failed for some reason, you don’t want to leave them queenless. You’re going to have to inspect and figure out what is going on. Also, even if you still have a queen, do you have enough bees to do a split? Will both halves be able to recover? An eleven-week colony isn’t very old.

Kay
Reply

Hey, my question is how or what parts of the body is she using to make the piping noise?

Thanks, Kay

Rusty
Reply

Kay,

Really good question. I know I’ve read the answer to this somewhere, but right now I can’t find it. Sorry. I wrote it on my list of things to look up.

Melissa
Reply

We just heard piping using a stethoscope on a hive that has swarmed several times the last week ??? such an incredible sound!

Steve
Reply

I just was in a hive that had swarm cells last week and heard the piping sound. I recognized it coming from a frame I was holding so took a real close look at where the sound was coming from. I spotted a queen !! She was on the small side so I am wondering if she is a Virgin. Why would she be piping after she has emerged ??

Emily Cortes
Reply

I would like to know if some honey bees quack.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

It sure sounds like quacking to me.

Debbie in Ohio
Reply

HI Rusty
Yesterday I was inspecting hives for swarm cells, etc., and on one of the super frames there was the most beautiful large queen cell and she was piping loudly. (Some of the brood area is still in the top supers from over wintering, they are moving and backfilling now) There were also two swarm cells down below on one of the brood frames. Question ….. do queens pipe before emergence? How old are these queens when they start piping? I saw the old queen in the bottom brood box, she is from last year, home made by the bees. She doesn’t appear to be ailing in that she is still laying frames of brood, end to end, top to bottom. She is still fat n sassy. I know the bees know better than I do, but it is confusing me. Last night I saw the drones and the bees on one side of the landing board swishing their behinds like crazy, almost frenzy like, and I thought they might swarm that moment, but they did not. I had wanted to make splits today but was leary to do so with her piping away. Would you remove the old queen and make the split with her, or would you take the piping queen and l/2 the bees with her? Thanks for any help you can give me. Love them piping queens !

Rusty
Reply

Debbie,

By the time they are piping, the queens are close to emergence. I always like to remove the old queen if I can find her, because that most closely resembles an actual swarm. If you take the swarm cells, the original hive still has the old queen and the swarm impulse hasn’t be satisfied.

Carol Schlaefer
Reply

Hello,

I was in a hive today, found the marked queen and lots of brood etc. I put the frame with the queen back in place and began snugging up the rest of the frames to put things back together. I heard the strangest growl.

Do queens make a growl noise? It repeated multiple times for many seconds duration, and seemed to come from the frame area where the queen had been. She was new last fall. No swarm cells or any other Q cells that I could see. Do they ever make a noise to complain when things are disturbed? It was really cool to hear.

Carol

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve heard all kinds of sounds over the years, some I could explain and some I couldn’t. Maybe someone else here has an idea.

Steve R.
Reply

Hmm…I wonder if Carol’s hive isn’t located near a nuclear power plant?? (lol!)

Matt
Reply

Hello,

I’m new to beekeeping and can use some advice about what I saw last weekend.

I have two hives, both started from nucs this spring: #1 has been installed four weeks and #2 for one week.

Saturday morning, there was a cloud of bees flying in the wooded / marshy area near the hives. I had a tough viewing angle, but they seemed to concentrate on the woods and then that concentration moved towards #2. But, it was tough to tell where they really ended up.

I went into #2, could not find the marked queen but did find a new queen that was piping. She was running around a frame that had two queen cells on it – one opened from her and the other still closed. She occasionally focused on the unopened cell but nothing aggressive.

The #2 has one hive body mostly nectar and pollen – no brood. Seemed like a full complement of bees.

On Sunday I opened the hive again and found the unopened queen cell was now open from the top. I could not find any queens but could hear piping.

Is this just a standard swarm or is there something else going on?

Thanks in advance,

Matt

Rusty
Reply

Matt,

I’m confused. Are you saying the #2 hive had no brood except for two queen cells? That, by itself, sounds unusual. Also, when you say the second queen cell was opened from the top, did you mean opened from the bottom?

Matt
Reply

Yes, sorry I meant opened from the bottom.

There was brood, but a seemingly insignificant amount.

Thanks,

Matt

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