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About queen sounds and swarming sounds in your hives

Learn more about queen sounds and swarming sounds in your hives. New queens make quacking vibrations when they’re ready to hatch. Then they start chewing their way out of the waxy queen cells where they have grown. When a new queen appears, she stops quacking and starts tooting.

The battle to the death – the strongest queen survives

The new queen must find out if she is alone in the hive or has competitors. Therefore, every hatched or not yet emerged princess makes beeping sounds similar to tooting sounds and quacking sounds. Maybe there’s only one queen in the hive. If there are several, nature ensures that the strongest survive to lead the colony.

The ability to communicate and know that there are more princesses in the colony is important for two reasons:

  1. If there are enough bees in the hive, the princess can swarm, even if the hive has already swarmed with the old queen. This can happen several times in a row.
  2. If there are not enough bees in the hive, it will be a fight to the death and the strongest of them will survive. Normally the workers do not interfere in fights between queens, they are only aggressive toward a queen or princess from another hive.

If two or more queens hatch and clash, they will fight to the death. This is not a good thing because they may both die (bad for the colony) and the loss of the second queen would remove any opportunity to swarm. So evolution has given the queens these two special sounds.

Sound emitted by new queens

The new queen makes a tooting sound. This informs the rest of the worker bees that the queen has arrived. She makes this sound as she roams around the colony trying to kill other new queen virgins. The toot sound usually lasts 5 seconds with a single long syllable followed by several short syllables. The fundamental frequencies range from 350 – 550 Hz.

Queens produce toot signals (sounds something like a G sharp G♯.) by pressing their chest against the honeycomb and rapidly contracting their pectoral muscles. Her wings are released from the flight muscle when they move and so the wings move very little.

In response to the toot, another unhatched queen princess, still imprisoned in her queen cell, calls back with a quacking sound. It has been suggested that this quacking sound informs the colony to protect her so that she can get out and perhaps escape with a swarm of her own. The quacking sound usually lasts more than 10 seconds long as a series of short syllables. The fundamental frequencies range from 200 – 350 Hz.

Behaviour is that queens produce beeping signals during the first days of their life.

Listen to Queen sounds

Listen to some of these quack sounds and toot sounds. The recording below has several good quacks from 0:00 to 0:40 and a good toot at 1:15.

Description of the characteristics of the Queen’s sound

Types of beep sounds: i.e. the term “beep” refers to the two unique signals that differ in their acoustic properties,
– A “toot sound” is produced by a queen that has hatched and emerged from its cell and is moving freely in the nest.
– A “quack sound” is produced by a queen who has pupated and grown into an adult, but still remains imprisoned in her cell.

Mechanism of production: a queen produces beep signals by pressing her chest against the honeycomb and rapidly contracting her pectoral muscles. Her wings are released from the flight muscles and therefore move very little.

Signal function: the functions of these signals are not fully known. Tooting can warn imprisoned queens of the horn’s presence while quacking sounds produced in response to toot sounds can alert workers to protect an imprisoned queen from her rival.

Acoustic properties:
– Toot: Typical duration: one or a few 4 to 5 sec long toot sequences followed by several short toot. Base frequencies from 350 – 550 Hz

– Quack: Typical duration: more than 10 seconds long, series of short sequences of about 0.5 s. Base frequencies from 200 – 350 Hz

The sound of crying bees

The bee colony that loses the queen begins to make the typical sound of bees informing them of this sad event. This sound is so typical that it is recognized by the beekeeper. We recommend every beekeeper learn to recognize this. If you want to hear it, just take 2 frames of queenless bees from the hive and put them in an empty hive. After a short while, the bees begin to make a characteristic sound. When you close the hive, it calms down after a while, but when you open it, they start making noise again. This sound is also related to the fact that bees are trying to disperse the air and are looking for the famous pheromone from the queen. When you hand the queen back to them, they recognize her very quickly. This sound can also be detected by the Beezum Heart device and can inform you that something bad or at least suspicious is happening in the hive.

The sound of bees swarming

During the spring months, if the hive is crowded because it is filled with eggs, larvae, honey, and pollen, the bees go into a special regime. This mode is the first phase of swarming. The bees may buzz with a swarming melody due to the nervousness caused by crowding in the hive, and perhaps due to the lack of young larvae to care for. This whole process lasts for about 21 days, and at the end, part of the colony leaves and establishes a new colony. The sounds of the bee community are constantly changing. They are always different from the sounds of a resident bee colony, which does not need to swarm. Bees buzz louder due to their large numbers and the need for better ventilation. The speed of the wings and the tension of the colony also change the frequency of the sound they make. The deviation is not as significant as with the loss of the queen, so the beekeeper cannot tell the difference. However, this is a significant enough change for devices such as Beezum Heart.

If you use Heart in a hive and see how the graphs change, you can prevent swarming and you don’t have to chase them to catch the swarm. The interesting thing about a bee colony is that bees swarm as if they have forgotten where their original hive is, and bees that are still in the hive are not willing to join other bees. They become two separate colonies.