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Pros and Cons of Queen Excluders

Beekeeping is a hobby full of many different kinds of equipment. One piece of equipment that is the subject of much controversy among beekeepers is the queen excluder.  Should you use a queen excluder on your beehive? Like many things in beekeeping, you will receive many different opinions.  Some beekeepers swear by them and others swear at them.

What is a Queen Excluder?

Used queen excluder on a honey bee hive image.

A queen excluder is a barrier that restricts the queen bee from entering a part of the hive. Smaller worker bees are able to move through the excluder. However, in most cases, the queen can not fit through the open spaces.

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We don’t know the identity of the first beekeeper to come up with the idea of using one. But, a metal queen excluder was made in France sometime in the mid 1800’s.

Plastic vs Metal Queen Excluders

Queen excluders are available in different materials. They are commonly made of metal or plastic.

Metal queen excluders are the industry standard and have been in use for a long time. Quality made wire queen excluders last for years. Some will have a wooden frame and others do not.

Beekeeper holding wooden bound queen excluder with bits of wax on it image.

However, plastic ones are inexpensive and a good option if you have a lot of hives or want to have some extras on hand.

Gap Size of Excluders

How far apart are the wires? The gap size of excluders varies a bit from one manufacturer to another. In recent years, the large influx of companies want to cash in on the beekeeping boom have added more variety to gap size.

But on average, queen excluder gap size averages between 0.166 inches (4.22mm) and 0.172 inches(4.38mm). They should be examined at the start of each season to be sure that none of the wires are broken or out of shape.

How Does a Queen Excluder Work?

The piece of equipment works on the basis of size. Queen bees are larger in size than workers. The large plump abdomen of a queen bees is easily noticeable.

But the thorax (mid-section) of a mature queen bee is also slightly larger than that of workers. This difference in thorax size prevents the queen from moving through the queen excluder.

Is a queen excluder 100% foolproof?  No.  We have to remember that nature loves genetic diversity. Undersized queens or unmated ones will sometimes be able to squeeze through the wires.

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Also, over time the equipment can become bent or warped reducing the effectiveness. On most occasions though, the queen excluder will keep the queen down below.

Large queen bee in brood nest of a hive image.

Why Beekeepers Use Queen Excluders

The main purpose of the queen excluder is to prevent the queen bee from entering honey supers.  Boxes near the top of the hive stack are meant to be the honey harvest for the beekeeper.

If allowed free range, the queen honey bee will often move up into the honey supers and lay eggs. When bees rear brood in the honey supers, there is less space for honey to be stored.

Also, honey boxes with brood are more difficult for the beekeeper to harvest. Nurse bees are reluctant to leave supers containing brood or baby bees. The causes the beekeeper to spend more time removing boxes from the hive.

Frames of draw comb that have had bee brood in them are more susceptible to bee pests such as wax moths.

Its just good beekeeping to keep the queen bee laying in the brood nest of the hive and not in the honey to be harvested.

A queen excluder is an optional piece of beekeeping equipment. In general, you do not receive one in a beginners beekeeping kit.

However, their use can be advantageous to hive management when used properly. After evaluating the pros and cons of using queen excluders, you can decide if you want to include them in your apiary.

Worker brood in honey super on hive without excluder image.

Advantages of Queen Excluder Use

Though not every beekeeper will agree. Using a queen excluder has some benefits.

  • easier for beekeeper to find the queen
  • helps prevent brood in honey supers-more room for honey
  • harvest time is easier – less chance of starting a robbing frenzy
  • helps control population of hive -less brood nest area
  • faster harvest time

There is no doubt that queen excluders make some beekeeping tasks easier. Containing brood in one section of the hive makes it much easier to find the queen bee when needed.

The colony has more room to store honey in the honey supers. And, harvest time is much easier when the beekeeper doesn’t have to worry about frames of baby bees.

Stored honey supers with drawn comb is less likely to be a target for Wax moths if it has not been used for brood rearing.

Disadvantages of Using an Excluder

Okay, this may get a bit tricky but I will deal with the known disadvantages of using queen excluders first.

  • another piece of equipment to buy and maintain
  • queen excluders don’t always work
  • drone bees are larger than queens and they get stuck!
  • some beekeepers feel they reduce the honey harvest
  • bee wings may be damaged from crawling through the excluder

The cons of using queen excluders can not be ignored. Here is yet another piece of equipment to purchase and maintain. Over time the metal will rust and the plastic excluders will break.

It does not always work – young queens may still be able to squeeze through an excluder. And the chubby male bees, drones are likely to get stuck in the wire gaps.

I always use a top entrance when excluders are on my hive, this gives the guys an easy way to access the top or bottom of the hive.

Some beekeepers call them “Honey Excluders”. They feel that use of an excluder greatly reduces honey production. I have not found this to be an issue.

Though it must be remembered that there are many factors involved in how much honey a colony produces.

Where to Put the Queen Excluder?

The queen excluder should go under the first one of  YOUR honey collection boxes.

If your standard hive configuration is a deep and a shallow (both boxes intended for the bees to use), the excluder goes on top of the shallow. 

The queen excluder goes directly below the honey supers you intend to harvest.

Diagram showing where to put an excluder on a stack of hive boxes image.

Which Side of the Queen Excluder Goes Down?

Metal queen excluders are most commonly used. There will be a support wire underneath the main section of wires.  The support wire side should face down towards the brood nest area.

Do You Remove a Queen Excluder in Winter?

YES ! When you harvest your supers of honey, take off the excluder. Do not leave the excluder on the hive over winter.

Perhaps you decide that rather than taking the extra honey you will just leave it for the bees.  That’s okay but take that excluder OFF!

During Winter, bees will move up in the hive to stay in contact with food. If the cluster moves up through the excluder to the top honey super, the queen bee is left to die. No excluders on the Winter beehive.

Wire queen excluder installed on bee hive image.

Tips for Using Queen Excluders on Your Beehives

While this piece of equipment can be very useful to beekeepers, problems do arrive. Also, you may not have enough excluders for every hive so these tips may help.

Create a Honey Barrier

If you don’t have or don’t want to use an excluder, there is another method you can use to minimize brood in the honey supers.

Before adding a honey super collection box, make sure that every frame on the current top box has a “honey crown” or “honey barrier”.

If you have at least 2” of capped honey on every frame. The queen will not “usually” cross that barrier.

When Bees Are Slow to Pass the Excluder

I have had 2 colonies over all the years that seemed to consider that excluder as an electric fence. They were just not having it.

(Chances of this happening increases when you are using frames of new foundation in your collection box instead of drawn comb.)

If this happens to you, switch out 1 empty or foundation frame (from the new box) with one frame of honey from the box below. This should encourage the bees to come on up and get to work.

A few weeks later, you can switch back.  As a general rule, this is not necessary for my bees because they usually go through with no problem.

It can be difficult to get bees excited about working on a box of foundation.  When using an excluder and new boxes of foundation, its best to let the bees start to draw comb. 

Then make sure the queen is below and add your excluder. Once new comb is present, the bees will be more eager to go through the excluder.

Using an Upper Hive Entrance

Our modern Langstroth hives have a front entrance at the bottom. One method I have found very useful is to use a top entrance for my hives.

I have a special homemade Ventilated Inner Cover that includes a small upper entrance. You can also accomplish this with a small 2″ shim (rectangle of wood) with a 1″ hole drilled in one side.

This upper entrance is above the queen excluder and I leave the bottom hive entrance as well.  In this way, workers or drones can enter and exit the hive from either entrance.

My bees seem to really like this entrance. It gives them a way in and out of the honey supers without going through the brood nest. Once the warm season is over I can plug it closed for Winter.

Queen Excluder Use : Yes or NO

Though they are not a required piece of beekeeping equipment, the pros and cons of using queen excluders should be explored.

For many beekeepers, the value of keeping brood out of honey harvest supers outweighs the possible downsides.

I suggest you consider their use and perhaps try a few hives with and without so you can decide for yourself if they fit your beekeeping style.

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