Battle queen bee

Queen bees emerge from their cells with a war cry and proceed to murder competing queens. But when she’s old, she’ll either leave the hive or be killed by her own workers.

Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Queen bees are hardcore. Consider the following badass facts.

Before queen bees emerge from their cells, they send out a high-pitched sound known as “piping.” It has been described as a battle cry, because when the queen comes out one of the first things she does is seek out other queens. If it finds another queen that has already emerged, it stings it to death. The piping is a kind of warning to other queens still in their cells. Don’t come out unless you want a fight!

You can hear some piping here:

Queen fights can be quite brutal. Often one queen will spray another with faeces. The smell of the faeces draws worker bees to the sprayed queen. They crowd around, pinning the queen, and then the other queen moves in for the kill.

Battle queens can come to a bad end, though. As queens age the hive will start to produce new queens. The old queen will sometimes move on, taking some bees with her and forming another hive. But sometimes she sticks around, and the hive decides it’s time for her to go. Workers will crowd around the queen and overheat her. This, by the way, is a defence tactic workers also use against invading wasps. It’s called balling because the bees effectively form a ball of heat around the target and cook it to death.

For this reason, some beekeepers will track the age of their queen bees with a system of coloured dots. The red dot on the queen bee above, for example, indicates that this bee was born in a year ending in 3 or 8. So, in a way, the battle queen bee also has war paint. As I said, pretty badass.

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

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