A few of our passionate followers have asked us to do a blog post about the growing movement against wing clipping.
Why do beekeepers clip a queen's wings?
Swarming can mean beekeepers lose their bees. Although swarms don’t move far away, they may move off a beekeeper’s property and go a little further afield, limiting a beekeepers ability to protect and nurture their bees. Bees don’t take human boundaries into consideration, or realize they are being shepherded by a certain human who may have a vested interest in keeping them in a certain place.
Swarming is an instinct in bees, and quite a wondrous one, as it's a natural expansion of bee abundance in action, where one hive becomes two…
Traditional beekeepers often clip one of the queen’s wings after she mates, controlling her ability to fly, which affects the hive’s inclination to swarm. Those opposed to this clipping say it limits the queen’s ability to control her own body movements and natural instincts and puts the beekeeper in charge of an artificial splitting the colony, if and when s/he chooses, usually when new virgin queens are ready to emerge. In this way the beekeeper creates a second hive and controls what happens with the first hive.
At Bee Mission we support Beekeepers, it's a noble and giving way of life. Our purpose is to advocate for bees, learn about them and educate others. We have passionate followers with differing points of view. Some of our followers have brought this anti-clipping movement to our attention, raising questions like what is known about wing-clipping, besides that it works for beekeepers? What effects does it have on the Queen Bee and her hive? Do we know if it hurts? Is she traumatized by having part of her anatomy sliced off? Why would we assume it doesn’t hurt? Do her hive-mates consider her defective?
We have not been able to find definitive answers to these questions, but it is important to understand if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Whether you're for or against clipping, we'd love to begin a productive dialogue about this on the accompanying Facebook post. Please share honest opinions. We never want to curb your passion, but we do want to maintain a caring and civil environment in which to discuss somewhat controversial bee matters.
This 4:55 minutes long video is educational for anyone who has never seen the process of clipping a Queen Bee’s wing. If you disagree with wing clipping or are sensitive to the wing clipping concept, you may prefer not to watch it.
At swarm time, a Queen Bee with a clipped wing will be pushed out of the hive by her enthusiastic bee family, and instead of taking flight she is most likely to fall to the earth.
Does this cause her emotional distress? Anxiety? How does her family respond to their matriarch being unable to lead them in flight? What does this do to the morale of the hive’s residents? If the swarm follows her, they will all end up on the earth and this is a vulnerable place for bees, with potential predators and possibly hostile elements.
The sad reality is that she is quite unlikely to be able to return to her hive if it is at an elevated level. If she succeeds, she may be killed by the new emerging virgin queen who stings her rivals to death. The old queen would be a key target in the new queen taking the throne, as she should be long gone to establish her own new hive with her swarm of bees. Either way, the hive will swarm.
Can we assume there is no anxiety or stress involved for the swarming bees when they go airborne and realize their queen is no longer with them? Will they return to the hive looking for her, or will they wait somewhere until she shows up? When she doesn’t join them, do they drop to the ground also as they weaken and die? Or does the beekeeper lure them back to the hive if s/he finds the swarm. If studies exist that indicate the loss of the Queen Bee during swarming doesn’t upset and displace the swarm, please post where to find them on our Facebook page, as this post is meant to raise our awareness.
Swarming is a vital part of bee and hive health and has gone on for thousands of years. It is a natural impulse. The “perfect” swarm contains an ideal balance of young and old bees to tend to all needs at the new home. They are like pioneers, adventuring to establish a new healthy home, with just three days of supplies. There are older foragers, younger beeswax makers, nursing bees and hive security bees. And the mated queen, who will create a new brood, unless she was lost to a clipped wing incident.
Their innate wisdom and instinctual intelligence have prepared them for survival, and it seems to be hard-coded into their DNA. A weakened swarm will not survive, but a healthy swarm, which includes their mated queen, has excellent chances of survival when left to their own natural patterns.
At times they swarm to leave behind a diseased or parasite-infested hive. Bees are clean-freaks, and if they sense their home is being overtaken by illness-producing microbes or bacteria, they may seek a new home to improve their chance of communal survival. They leave behind an intact hive with a new emerging queen who goes on a mating flight and the cycle continues with a fresh genetic batch of brood members from the new queen’s mates.
There is a superior natural intelligence at work in the swarming phenomenon, and we can all experience awe at this majestic display if we are lucky enough to see a hive swarm. It is a unique and different way bees reproduce.
Why do beekeepers intrude in this process? Does wing clipping serve the hive or just the beekeeper? We are living in times where many long-accepted practices that are deeply entrenched in our collective psyche are now up for review. Let’s look at this practice with new eyes, new science and decades of information. Let’s honor the time-tested intelligence of the hive while maintaining gratitude to beekeepers because at the end of the day, we are all in this together. If wing clipping is a tradition that was once believed useful but is now seen as cruel or stressful to an already over-stressed species, let’s have the courage to change our ways for the greater good of our beloved honeybees.
This is a controversial issue, but one that must be addressed as it affects the good of honeybees. If you share your opinion about it on our Facebook page, remain polite and respectful as we all learn by taking each other’s viewpoints on board.