What is a queen excluder (and when to use it)?

Beekeeping can be both a profession and a hobby for many. Not only does it helps with maintaining the bee population high, but it can also be a lucrative source of income when done correctly. Beekeeping has many unique equipment and technicalities every beekeeper must know and have to make their job more accessible while also taking better care of their hive. One of these pieces of equipment is the queen excluder.

A queen excluder is a barrier with holes made of metal or plastic that acts as a separator between the worker bees and the queen bee [1]. This excluder prevents the queen bee from leaving the brood box while keeping the worker bees in the honey supers. This is done in order to prevent the queen bee from laying eggs in the honey super and to keep the honeycombs cleaner.

It will then be removed in autumn to allow the queen bee to transfer to the winter cluster of bees to maintain its body heat and survive the cold months [2]

Now, let us learn more about the purpose of the queen excluder, its uses, and how it helps beekeepers in their job.

What is a queen excluder?

beekeeper feeding bees in his beehive in a beesuite

In beekeeping, you’ll commonly have one or two brood boxes [3] in your Langstroth hive [4], where the queen bee stays and lays thousands of eggs each day. On top of the brood boxes are several honey supers [5], where the worker bees will store honey, which the beekeepers will harvest. 

Though the honeycombs or the hexagonal cells found in the hive can be used as both brood cells or honey cells, it is more desirable to keep the broods away from the honey supers to prevent the honeycomb from getting darker. Although there is nothing wrong with a dark honeycomb, it is just more visually appealing [6].

So to separate the brood boxes from the honey supers, beekeepers can place a barrier with holes between the two boxes, called a queen excluder.

A queen excluder is a metal or plastic barrier with holes. It prevents the bigger queen bee from crossing from the brood boxes to the honey supers while allowing the smaller worker bees to travel between the boxes.

To learn more about bees, I‘d also recommend reading Is it illegal to kill bees? and What makes honeycomb dark?

When should you use a queen excluder?

The queen excluder is best utilized early in the Spring as the queen bee starts to lay more eggs and the number of bees increases. As the cold days of winter end and it starts to get warmer, the queen bee will migrate to the bottom of the brood box.

So, it is crucial that before placing the queen excluder between the honey super and the brood box, you make sure that the queen has already moved to the bottom of the hive. Because if you place the queen excluder while the queen bee is still on the honey super, she will start laying eggs there.

When should you remove the queen excluder from the hive?

beekeeper harvesting honey

The purpose of a queen excluder is to bar the queen bee from going into the honey supers or the upper boxes of the hive. However, the excluder should not be treated as a permanent infrastructure in the hive. 

For instance, it is not advisable to place the queen excluder in the hive during the cold nights of the early Spring. Because if you do this, you might be surprised to find your queen bee dead at the bottom of the hive. This is because the queen bee needs the heat of other bees through clustering. 

So, as a rule of thumb, the queen excluder must be removed from the hive during the honey harvesting period, around July to August. This will allow the queen bee to move to the top of the hive to stay warm during the colder months.

Also read What is a swarm trap? and How to feed bees in the fall

Can a queen excluder also trap drone bees?

Since the queen excluder can impede the movement of bigger bees, especially the queen bee, it may also trap drone bees in it. 

So, checking for drone cells before placing your queen excluder is crucial because they can clog up the excluder, limiting honey production. Drone cells can be differentiated from female worker bees because drone cells are larger than worker cells.

Metal queen excluder vs. plastic queen excluder: Which to choose?

When considering which types of a queen excluder to use, there are some criteria that you must look into before buying. Here are some of the considerations to look for.

1. Strength of Materials

The main difference between a metal and plastic queen excluder is the strength of the materials. Metal excluders are naturally sturdier than plastic, so they typically last longer. 

Some beekeepers say that metal excluders can last for at least ten years. On the other hand, plastic excluders can only be useful for a year because they break from the wax and propolis build-up.

Winner: Metal 

2. Upfront Cost

Another important consideration when choosing between a metal and a plastic excluder is the upfront cost or the initial cost when buying them.

Naturally, metals are more expensive than plastic. So, at face value, beekeepers often choose the cheaper alternative. However, if you look at a longer time frame, the metal queen excluders will last longer, so you’ll not have to buy a plastic excluder break each time.

Though it will cost higher if you are operating medium to large-scale beekeeping, investing in better quality material will still be better.

Winner: Plastic

3. Bee Safety

In a queen excluder, only the queen bee  (and the unnecessary drone bees) is hindered from crossing between the brood box and the honey super. The other worker bees can easily pass through the barrier holes.

However, using an unsafe bee excluder may cause the worker bees some damage, like having their wings torn. So if you consider the bee safety of the bees, then the metal excluder is better since they have a smoother edge than the plastic alternative.

Winner: Metal

4. Weight and stability

A significant drawback for metal queen excluders is their weight since they are heavier than the plastic types. However, though they are heavier, they compensate for it through their stability and will sit flat on the brood box.

On the other hand, the plastic queen excluder is lighter but less stable when placed on top of the brood box.

Winner: Metal 

5. Temperature

Metal is a great conductor of temperature, whether heat or cold. So applying this quality, the metal excluder is more temperature conductive, which can have an effect on the hive. Conversely, the plastic excluder doesn’t easily conduct heat.

Winner: Plastic

6. Crevices that are potential hiding places for hive beetles.

Metal excluders have crevices that may serve as hiding places for hive beetles, which are dangerous to the bees. In contrast, plastic excluders don’t have the same gaps.

Winner: Plastic

7. Environmental impact

Since plastic excluders are less durable than their metal counterparts, they are more likely to end up in the trash can year after year, which is not great news for the environment. On the other hand, metal excluders are more durable and can still be recycled after their useful life.

Winner: Metal

Verdict: Metal (4) vs. Plastic (3)

After comparing the two queen excluders and emphasizing the most important qualities they should have while also considering the environmental, social, and financial impact, it appears that the metal excluders are better. Some of the qualities that stand out are their durability, stability, bee safety, and environmentally-safe.

To expand your bee-knowledge, you should also take a look at When should you stop feeding bees sugar water? and Are bees dangerous to humans?

Additionally you could read Are hummingbirds afraid of bees?


A queen excluder is a metal or plastic barrier with holes separating the worker bees and the queen bee. Using a queen excluder in the hive is a clever way to isolate the queen bee in the brood box while preventing it from crossing over to the honey supers. 

The queen excluder can limit the queen bee’s access to the honey supper to prevent her from laying eggs on the honeycombs, which are intended for honey and not for broods. 

However, it is essential to note that the queen excluder is not a permanent addition to the hive. It is only used when the climate is hotter and not during the cold months of winter. Isolating the queen bee during the cold nights will kill her because she will not be able to transfer to the colony and cluster along with the other bees.

There are two common materials used in making a queen excluder. They are either metal or plastic. Generally, metal is better since it is more durable, stable, and environmentally friendly. At the same time, plastic is cheaper, doesn’t conduct heat and cold, but is often wasteful.


[1] – Queen excluder. (2020, September 14). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_excluder

[2] – Winter cluster. (2022, January 3). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_cluster

[3] – Bee brood. (2020, October 4). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bee_brood 

[4] – Langstroth hive. (2022, October 24). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langstroth_hive

[5] – Honey super. (2021, December 14). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_super

[6] – Honeycomb. (2022, October 21). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeycomb