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Monday morning myth: clipped wings prevent swarming

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 it will soon try again—often taking off with a recently hatched virgin 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In addition, clipped queens are often superseded more quickly than those with whole wings.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.

In any case, clipping is not nearly as popular as it once was. For a time, clipping was 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—so leave your queen intact and find some other way to reduce swarming.

Rusty

Comments

Clare
Reply

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?

Rusty
Reply

Clare,

Clipping queens isn’t as common as it used to be. Buy your bee products from a local beekeeper and just ask.

Meriel
Reply

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I am interested in your assertion that clipped queens are often superseded more quickly than unclipped queens.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 The rate that queens are being superseded is currently a hot topic of concern and debate at my local BKA.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?

Rusty
Reply

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.

Meriel
Reply

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.

Rusty
Reply

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.

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