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The Use of the Vibration Signal and Worker Piping to Influence Queen Behavior during Swarming in Honey Bees, Apis mellifera


Stanley S. Schneider, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA. E-mail:


We investigated worker regulation of queen activity during reproductive swarming by examining the rates at which workers performed vibration signals and piping on queens during the different stages of the swarming process. Worker–queen interactions were first examined inside observation hives during the 2–3 wk that preceded the issue of the swarm (pre-swarming period) and then inside the swarm clusters during the period that preceded liftoff and relocation to a new nest site (post-swarming period). Queen court size did not differ between the pre- and post-swarming periods, but workers fed the queens less inside the swarm clusters. Workers performed vibration signals on the queens at increasing rates throughout the pre-swarming period inside the natal nest, but rarely or never vibrated the queen inside the swarm. Piping was performed on the queens during both the pre- and post-swarming periods and always reached a peak immediately before queen flight. During the final 2–4 h before swarm liftoff, queens were increasingly contacted by waggle dancers for nest sites, some of which piped the queen. The vibration signal may operate in a modulatory manner to gradually prepare the queen for flight from the natal nest, and the cumulative effects of the signal during the pre-swarming period may make further vibrations on the queen unnecessary when inside the swarm cluster. In contrast, worker piping may function in a more immediate manner to trigger queen takeoff during both the pre- and post-swarming periods. Workers that vibrate and pipe the queen tend to be older, foraging-age bees. The regulation of queen activity during colony reproduction may therefore be controlled largely by workers that normally have little contact with queens, but help to formulate colony reproductive and movement decisions.

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