Queen piping

In some but not all swarming colonies young queens produce audible sound called piping [1]. The piping occurs in colonies where queens are confined (see queen confinement) and afterswarms are produced [1][2] or in colonies producing swarms during emergency queen rearing [1]. The piping of a queen inside queen cell is called quacking and the piping of a queen outside the queen cell is called tooting.

Piping is composed of a series of syllables. Duration of the syllables differ between tooting and quacking. Tooting usually starts with long syllables, lasting about 1 second. Later syllables become increasingly shorter. Duration of the last of them is about 0.25 second. Quacking usually consists of series of short syllables lasting about 0.1 second. Intervals between syllables of tooting and quacking last about 0.1 second [3] see also [4]. Fundamental frequency of piping increases with age of queens and ranges from 200 to 550 Hz. The fundamental frequency of tooting is higher than that of quacking but in young queens the difference is small [3] see also [5][4][6][7] for review see [8].

Queens start piping when they are one or two days old (mean±SD = 1.8±0.9 days) and some of them continue doing this at age 9 days [1]. They are not able to produce quacking sound earlier than 21±3.7 hours after expansion of their wings, when they are confined for about 10 hours [9]. During tooting a queen is standing still with her thorax tilted forward and pressed to the comb [7]. Her folded wings are moving slightly.

Although the piping is audible to human ear it is perceived by bees as comb vibrations [5]. Displacement of comb during the vibrations is about 0.1 - 1 micrometer [8]. Attenuation of the vibrations is about 6 dB per 10 cm [3]. Tooting is perceived by confined queens only at relatively short distance of about 10 cm [3].

Queens exposed to tooting stop cutting queen cell [9]. In presence of tooting, but not quacking, queens emerge from queen cells later [10][9] but see [5][11]. Quacking usually occurs in response to tooting. The response can be induced by artificially generated sound [5][4][9][3].
Queens which survived queen fighting were piping more often [12]. In response to piping workers stop their activity and become motionless [5]. The aggressive interactions directed by workers towards the queen were more frequent before tooting than afterwards [13]. Playing of recorded piping to colonies with single young unmated queen can result in departure of a swarm [1][14].

It is believed that by piping queens inform other queens about their presence and prevent emergence of more than one queen at a time [15]. Another function of piping can be communications between young queens in order to asses their fighting abilities and avoiding fighting [16][8]. It is also possible that queens toot to prevent worker aggression [17][13].

Historical references: [18][19]
Other references: [20][21]


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  2. Otis G.W. (1980) The swarming biology and population dynamics of the Africanized honey bee. PhD thesis, University of Kansas.
  3. Michelsen A., Kirchner W.H., Andersen B.B., Lindauer M. (1986) The tooting and quacking vibration signals of honeybee queens: a quantitative analysis. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology 158:605–611.
  4. Wenner A.M. (1962) Communication with queen honey bees by substrate sound. Science 19:446-448.
  5. Hansson A. (1945) Lauterzeugung und Lautauffassungsvermögen der Bienen. Opuscula Entomologica 6:1-124.
  6. Woods E.F. (1956) Queen piping. Bee World 37:185–195.
  7. Simpson J. (1964) The mechanism of honey-bee queen piping. Zeitschrift für vergleichende Physiologie 48:277–282.
  8. Kirchner W.H. (1993) Acoustical communication in honeybees. Apidologie 24:297–307.
  9. Grooters H.J. (1987) Influences of queen piping and worker behaviour on the timing of emergence of honey bee queens. Insectes Sociaux 34:181–193.
  10. Bruinsma O., Kruijt J.P., van Dusseldorp W. (1981) Delay of emergence of honey bee queens in response to tooting sounds. Proceedings of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen. Series C: Biological and Medical Sciences 84:381-387.
  11. Spangler H.G. (1971) Effects of recorded queen pipings and of continuous vibration on the emergence of queen honey bees. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 64:50–51.
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  14. Simpson J., Greenwood S.P. (1974) Influence of artificial queen-piping sound on the tendency of honeybee, Apis mellifera, colonies to swarm. Insectes Sociaux 21:283–287.
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  16. Visscher P.K. (1993) A theoretical analysis of individual interests and intracolony conflict Ddrring swarming of honey bee colonies. Journal of Theoretical Biology 165:191-212.
  17. Hammann E. (1957) Which takes the initiative in the virgin queen's flight, the queen or the workers. Insectes Sociaux 4:91-106.
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  21. Armbruster L. (1922) Über Bienentöne, Bienensprache und Bienengehör. Archiv für Bienenkunde 4:221–259.