How to Find the Queen Bee

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Learning how to find the queen bee is one of the most frustrating lessons for the new beekeeper. But, having a quality queen in residence is vital to colony success. And sometimes the beekeeper needs to find her to perform various hive management tasks. Can you find yours? Well, if you can not – you are not alone-but you can get better at it!

Frame from a beehive with bees and the queen bee image.

It is not only beginning beekeepers who struggle to find a queen bee. Heck, we old beekeepers have a hard time sometimes. But, one important fact about the queen – she is essential to productive colonies.

Finding the Queen Bee in a Hive

In a hive of 30-60 thousand bees, it can be rather hard to find 1 bee. One very special bee that is just a bit different from the other 59,999.

However, there will be times that you need to locate her. This is a skill that you must try to develop as part of your beekeeper training.

What Does a Queen Bee Look Like?

You can not get better at finding the queen bee if you don’t know what she looks like! She looks similar to the other bees in some aspects. But, a couple of special physical characteristics help distinguish the queen bee.

  • size
  • abdomen
  • coloring
A queen honey bee on comb in the hive - thorax and abdomen labeled to identify her image.

She is the largest sized bee in the hive – (in respect to length). Her thorax is slightly larger than workers. This is why queen excluders can be used to keep her out of honey supers.

The large abdomen of a mating laying queen bee is her most outstanding feature. Inside, are her ovaries and a special organ called the “spermatheca” that holds drone sperm.

Some races have queen bees of lighter colors that are easier to find but you can’t count on that.

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Performing a Quick Queen Check

With any top boxes set aside for a moment, it’s time to put the hook hive tool to work. Seriously, I think I have 5 or 6 of these – they make beekeeping so much easier on days that my hands hurt.

A 10 frame langstroth hive with numbered frames before finding the queen bee image.

1. Using the a hive tool, remove the frame in the #2 position. This is the second frame from the left (my left standing behind the hive.)

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By removing a frame near the outside, there is less chance of the queen being there. Bees tend to have the majority of brood in the middle of the hive.

Always, try to lift brood frames straight up and not rub them against adjacent frames-if possible. You do not want to “roll” your queen and kill her.

A frame perch or frame holder  is a great tool to hold frames out of the way while you work. Every beekeeper really does need one – they pay for themselves in less aggravation.

2. Look at the frame you just removed (yes, even the first one). Search the comb but also the sides of the frame. If you do not see her, place the frame on your frame perch. Or safely set it aside.

You now have more room to work inside the hive without squeezing bees. You can remove the next frame moving towards the center of the hive.

3. Once you find a frame that has small larva or eggs, you should begin a serious search. Inspect the center of the frame and work outwards.

After the second frame is inspected and you do not find her, place it back in the hive. Some extra room is available because you have one frame removed on the frame perch.

4. Lift each frame with care and hold it over the hive to inspect. If the queen falls off the frame it would fall into the hive and not on the ground. 

Success, you have found her. Good job! Now, carefully put that frame back in the hive. And then, replace the other frames and push all the frames snugly together.

Queen honey bees of different colors on comb in the hive image.

Queenspotting Tips

You can learn a lot from a good beekeeping book. But, some skills require hands on practice that only time can give. Here are some tips that should make finding your queen a bit easier.

  • mark your queens
  • check the brood nest first
  • develop a hive inspection procedure
  • remove a couple of frames to make room
  • look for a large bee surrounded by workers
  • watch for the slow waggle walk

Marked Queens are Easier to Find

When you buy honey bees, pay extra for a marked queen or mark the queen yourself. The most important issue is to be sure that you only mark her “thorax” and don’t get paint on her eyes, wings, etc.

Check the Brood Nest First

Where is the queen bee most likely to be? The duty of a honey bee queen is to lay eggs. Egg laying normally begins in one central area of the hive and expands outward.

Find the brood nest, the area inside a honey bee colony that holds eggs, larvae and capped brood. In time you will need to learn how to evaluate a brood pattern.

Large queen honey bee on a frame of comb near the brood nest image.

Frames with new eggs or small bee larvae (milk brood) are the youngest part of the brood nest. She is mostly likely here.

But, be careful when manipulating any parts of the hive. Sometimes, she is where you least expect her.

Develop a Inspection Procedure

Every beekeeper has their own procedure for hive inspections. The first goal is to inspect the deep brood box (the one on the bottom) where the queen is most likely to be.

But, your “brood nest” may be higher up in the hive stack. If you do not find her in the bottom box, look in the next box higher in the stack and so on.

Mistaking Drones for a Queen

In my online beekeeping class, beginning beekeepers learn that a queen bee is larger than a worker bee. There, you see a bigger bee! She is a beauty and big! Wait a minute. There is another one and another.

This can’t be right! No, it is not right – you have not found your queen bee. You have found a drone bee (male bee). They have rounded bodies with huge black eyes on the heads. Oh well, that’s okay – now you know what a drone bee looks like.

Large drone honey bee on a blade of green grass image.

Queen Bees Walk Funny

A laying honey bee queen has a certain way of moving as she walks across the comb. Her large abdomen waggles across the frame. You will leave to recognize it. 

FAQs

What if I have trouble seeing evidence of the queen (eggs etc.)?

If your eye sight is not what it used to be, invest in a large magnifying glass. I keep one in my beekeeper’s tool box. Don’t laugh. If you have not reached the point where a big magnifying glass comes in handy, you will!

To prevent it from getting scratched in among my tools – I keep it in one of my husbands old socks. Shhhh…. he doesn’t know.

What if you can not find your queen bee?

Most of the time, you only need to know that your hive is “queen right”.  A queen right hive has a healthy, mated queen laying a good brood pattern.

In a large colony with several boxes, place a queen excluder between the boxes and return in a few days. The box with eggs has the queen.

Is finding the queen always necessary?

No, it is not necessary at each inspection. If you see fresh eggs, one in each cells and everything else looks good -close up the hive and try again another day.

Final Thoughts

Quickly locating a queen bee on a frame full of hundreds of bees is one of those skills that develop. Off comes the hive top and you see thousands of wiggling bees. Oh my goodness! 

What was I supposed to look for? LOL Honestly, your expertise in finding the queen bee in the hive will get better with time. Eventually your eyes and mind will put together the correct clues to enable you to say – “There she is!

Enjoy the short practice video included with this post – it is an older video but I think it still has merit. This link will take to my Youtube channel for a larger video picture. Pause the video if you want a longer time to search for her.