On the eleventh day…

…eleven pipers piping

Honey bees make a sound that apiarists call piping.

Piping is a noise queen bees make during certain times of the hive’s development. A virgin queen may pipe before she emerges from her cell and for a brief time afterwards; the mature, mated queen will pipe in response.

[1] The queen, with an orange abdomen, in the centre of the picture; [2] queen cells on the outside of the honeycomb;

It has been suggested that the piping is a form of battle cry, an announcement that the queens are preparing to fight for dominance. It may also signal information to the worker bees about a queen’s strength and capability, and if she is worthy of their support. While there are piping queens in a hive, the workers will delay the hatching of more queens by sealing their cells, or even re-sealing partially opened cells.

Piping is an important signal linked to the swarming behaviour of the bees: when up to half the bees swarm to form a new colony, led by a virgin queen, the piping in the hive stops immediately which acts as a cue to the remaining workers to release one of the captive queens.

[3] swarm; [4] worker bee on hog weed.

It used to be thought that only queen bees piped but workers have been heard piping in a swarm. It is believed that many, if not all, of the worker bee pipers are the scouts searching for nest sites, and that they manage the behaviour of the swarm with their signals.

For the musicians out there: the piping sound is a G♯, produced by operating the flight muscles without spreading the wings. The queen bee transmits it into the hive by pressing her thorax against the nest’s substrate.

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