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.
Honey Bee Suite