Should Clipping Queen Bee Wings be used to Extend Inspection Intervals?

From Bee Craft: November 2009

Two eminent beekeepers give us their differing points of view on this topic

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IVOR DAVIS, NDB, maintains 18 colonies and is a past president of BBKA

CLIPPING THE queen’s wings makes the management of colonies more effective and alleviates some of the stresses on a colony by reducing the frequency of inspections.

If a colony has a clipped queen, the initial urge to swarm once the first queen cell is sealed is frustrated as the queen cannot fly off with the swarm. The workers return to the hive when they realise the queen is no longer with them. The colony is now unable to swarm until the first virgin queen has emerged to leave the colony with half the workers. This allows the frequency of inspections during the swarming season to be extended by at least a week thus allowing the beekeeper some freedom to plan inspections about a busy working week.

A queen takes about 16 days to emerge from the time an egg is laid. It takes about 8 days to reach the stage of the queen cell being capped. Normally a queen will lay an egg in a queen cup when the colony

wants to raise new queens. However, sometimes workers will take an egg from a normal worker cell and place it in a queen cup and sometimes they will construct a queen cell by extending a worker cell.

Unless you are very observant it is often difficult to recognise the initiation of a new queen until the egg has hatched and is being nourished. This means that from observing the start of queen production to a sealed queen cell can be as few as 5 days (8 days to a sealed queen cell minus 3 days as an egg). You will notice that this is less than a week so a beekeeper who inspects hives on a weekly basis is running the risk of having a swarm and losing many workers.

If the queen is clipped we can add an extra 8 days to the 5 days and arrive at 13 days between inspections. Normally we reduce this figure to 10 days because under emergency conditions a colony could take a day old larva and produce a queen from this (3 days + 8 days = 11 days).

In effect, if you want to be sure that the colony will not swarm you must inspect every 3 days if the queen is not clipped but every 10 days if she is.

Please note that fortnightly inspections when the queen is clipped are not sufficient to prevent a colony swarming under all conditions.

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DAVID CRAMP managed 4000 colonies in New Zealand before he retired

I CONSIDER this a method of swarm control which is as ineffective and old fashioned as sulphuring bees to obtain honey. Over the last twenty years there has been so much new knowledge on colony dynamics, why not make use of it? Clipping wings is one of the best ways of introducing uncertainty into apiary management that I know of.

The time line mathematics do figure, perhaps, and you would gain a few more days between inspections before I having to do something about a swarming situation which is the aim of the game in this scenario.

But as you are introducing a host of new, uncontrollable variables into the colony dynamics, this one dubious advantage is usually negated and your chances of losing a laying queen either through damaging her or the bees rejecting her or due to her attempting to fly out of the hive and disappearing are hugely increased.

Then what? The bees still want to swarm and even if they didn’t, you have a laying gap of weeks, and you may end up losing a swarm with a virgin anyway. At this point, few beekeepers are in control of the situation. But what to do instead?

The swarming season isn’t a surprise ‘happening* with no warning signs. It builds up and is a definite event for which you must be prepared. You know it’s coming, so give yourself time to limit it by working with the bees rather than against them. Start early, keep ahead of them and keep control.

Use a young, marked queen under a year old. A year-old queen is far less likely to swarm than a two-year-old queen and so on – the figures are amazing.

Reverse boxes in the early spring if you overwinter on more than one brood box and keep doing it as required.

Ensure sufficient laying room for the queen and sufficient storage room for an early flow.

Honey production was my chief income for many years with many hives. I literally couldn’t afford swarming so had to find the best ways of limiting it. Damaging my chief production units and introducing uncertainty into my apiary/hive management definitely wasn’t on the list.

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