Queen Balling

If you aren’t a beekeeper you probably haven’t heard of “queen-balling” and you are wondering what the heck it is. It’s not something bekeepers see very often. I’d never seen it until last week. Also known as queen-celling or simply “balling,” is a behavior exhibited by worker bees within a colony when they decide to eliminate a queen. It can happen for various reasons, such as when the queen is aging, not performing her reproductive duties effectively, or when the colony perceives her as a threat. The latter is what happened with the situation I discovered last week but with a queen from a totally different colony.

To kill a queen , or ball her, worker bees will essentially encircle the queen in a tight cluster, effectively smothering her with their bodies and raising her body temperature to lethal levels while at the same time trying to sting her to death and tearing into her body with their mandibles. Sounds horrible and it is!

You can checkout a few of the videos I took showing the queen getting balled below. You can see I try to move the bees away from her but it’s very difficult because they stay connected to her pretty tightly. Toward the end you can see just a few bees on her. I finally got them all and discovered that two stingers were left inside the queen.

The reasons behind queen balling can be complex and may involve genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors. It is essential to note that not all colonies engage in queen balling, and it does not happen frequently. As a matter of fact, I just told someone the day before this happened that I’d never seen it in real life!

Queen balling is a natural process in honeybee colonies and is one of the ways colonies maintain the health and productivity of their hive by ensuring that only the fittest queens are in charge. Queens returning from mating flights can also be balled which happens often in the Spring. In the situation I encountered, the queen was being killed because she was trying to get into another colony. The interesting thing is-the hive she was trying to get into was a swarm I had been collecting from the ground. Here’s what it looked like:

I was busy trying to corral the bees from this ground swarm into a hive body when a second swarm of bees came out of nowhere and tried to get inside the SAME HIVE! Thus, the queen balling. It wasn’t a great decision for this smaller cluster of bees to try to enter this hive. Sadly, it had dire consequences for their queen.

Trying to coax a swarm into a new hive body

This was a very fast event! I’d say all in all it lasted about 30 minutes. Once most of the bees had left the queen and I was finally able to get to her it took me about 10 minutes to get the very last bee off of her. The bees stinger was still in the queen and since they were still attached it was difficult to remove the worker. (the small reddish thing on my finger is not a Varrora mite :))

To prevent queen balling and maintain a productive colony, beekeepers need to carefully manage their hives. Providing adequate space, monitoring colony health, and ensuring that queens are well-mated and healthy can help reduce the likelihood of this behavior. Understanding the factors that trigger queen balling can contribute to better hive heatlh and ultimately improve your success as a beekeeper!

To lessen the chance that one of your colonies queens will be balled:

Protect your colonies from robbing when you can

Protect your colonies from “drift” (bees entering the wrong hive) by not putting your hives close together

According to research, more queens are balled during the Spring. Make sure you check your hives during the Spring to see if your colonies are queen right and thriving

Lessen stress on your colonies by not inspecting them during bad weather days this includes very hot days or days when a storm is approaching

Thanks for reading and happy beekeeping!