Find the Queen Bee
Are you a beekeeper? Can you find your queen bee in the hive easily? Well, if you can not – you are not alone. Learning how to find the queen bee is one of the most frustrating lessons for the new beekeeper.
Heck, we old beekeepers even have a hard time sometimes. In a hive of 30-60 thousand bees, it can be rather hard to find 1 bee.
One special bee a bit different looking from the other – 59,999. But sometimes, you need to be able to find your queen so this is a good skill to develop.
Don’t laugh. If you have not reached the point where a big magnifying glass doesn’t come in handy, you will!
I keep a large magnifying glass like this in my beekeeper’s tool box. You can find them locally or order one like this.
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.
I promise there will come a day when you will be thankful that I told you to add this item to your toolbox.
Queen Locating Gets Easier With Practice
Most of us are successful at queen location once we gain some experience. But learning how to find the queen bee in a large hive can be a struggle.
It may take more than one effort. Sometimes we need to close the hive up and come back another day. Don’t keep your hive open too long.
Once you master the skill of locating a queen (most of the time), hive management issues are easier. Your confidence is boosted and sometimes just having confidence that you can do it – helps you to be successful.
Finding the queen bee allows you to make better decisions about your hive’s condition. Thankfully we don’t always have to find her and can look for signs of a queen – such as eggs. ( Again – the magnifying glass.)
Finding the Queen Bee – The Process
Some beekeeper skills require hands on practice that only time can give. Quickly locating a queen bee on a frame full of bees is one of those skills that develop.
And, yes – even after years of learning she will sometimes be difficult to locate. But, here are some tips that should make finding your queen a bit easier for now.
Trick #1 Keep your queen bees marked – Marked Queens are Easier to Find
When you buy bees pay extra for a marked queen or mark her yourself. Marked queens are easier to find.
However, you will eventually have an unmarked queen. This may be because your supplier did not mark her or the colony requeened itself without your permission – how rude!
Marking your own queen is not that difficult. Beekeepers use a variety of things – the most important issue is to be sure that you only mark her “thorax” and don’t get paint on her eyes, wings, etc.
I like to use this type of marking pen. Why? Because that it is the favorite brand used by many beekeepers.
And, it has been in use for years with no adverse reactions. If I keep my pens tightly capped when not in use – they last for years!
Finding Marked Queens by Age
When queen bees are marked in a standard color scheme, you can also track her age. Of course, you can use any queen marking color that you wish – or you can use the International queen bee marking colors.
International Queen Colors
- Years ending in 1 or 6 – White
- Years ending in 2 or 7 – Yellow
- Years ending in 3 or 8 – Red
- Years ending in 4 or 9 – Green
- Years ending in 5 or 0 – Blue
The Bee Most Commonly Mistaken for a Queen Bee
You think you are ready for anything. Off comes the top and you see thousands of wiggling bees. Oh my goodness! What was I supposed to look for ? LOL
Then it happens, you see a bigger bee! She is a beauty and big! Wait a minute. There is another one. Wow. And, I see another and another. This can’t be right! No, it is not right.
Why are the drone bees eyes so big? They need great eyesight to see beautiful young virgin queens when they go out to mate.
Take your time and try to avoid being frustrated. Learning how to find the queen bee takes time, patience and sometimes pure dumb luck.
Identifying a queen bee seems so simple. But it is not always easy. Not every queen will be huge and easy to spot.
Young queens that have not mated or have only been laying for a short time will have shorter, thinner abdomens. Early on, it can be hard to tell a small queen from a large worker.
This is just one of the skills that take time to develop as you grow in beekeeping experience. Read as many beekeeping books as you can. Every books has strengths in different areas of keeping bees.
This is true as well in regards to the skills of learning to find your queen bee.
What Does a Queen Bee Look Like?
Trick #2 – Learn How to Identify the Queen
You can not understand how to find the queen bee if you don’t know what she looks like ! A queen bee looks similar to the other female worker bees in some aspects. Because, both the queen bee and workers are female.
But she has special characteristics that distinguish her as the queen. First, she has a larger thorax – or mid section of her body.
Beekeepers paint non-toxic paint on the queen’s thorax. The colored dot makes finding a queen easier but you won’t always have a dot on your queen.
Abdomen Size Makes the Queen Bee Look Different
There is one outstanding difference that makes a mature mated queen bee easier to find. An egg-laying mated queen has a large long abdomen. The long abdomen holds a lifetime’s worth of eggs.
Inside the abdomen, the “spermatheca” holds the drone sperm once she has mated. The long tail enables the queen to reach deep down in the honeycomb cell to lay an egg.
The color of your queen can vary. Most honey bee queens sold today are a mixture of different races of bees. Therefore, an Italian queen can be light or dark colored. I do love a beautiful golden Italian queen.
How to Find The Queen Bee Quickly
Trick #3 The Brood Nest is the First Place to Expect Her
It is best to allow plenty of time for hive inspections. But, sometimes you need to find the queen in a hurry. An important part of knowing how to find the queen bee is knowing where to look.
Where is the queen bee most likely to be? One clue for finding the location of your queen is to think about what she does.
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. This is the area inside a honey bee colony that holds the cells of baby bees. Some of the frames will hold capped cells that are transitioning from larva to pupa to adult. The queen may be here but this is not the first place to look.
Locate frames that have eggs or larva (milk brood). This is the youngest part of the brood nest and most likely place for the queen to be.
But the queen could be anywhere so be careful when manipulating any hive parts. Sometimes she is where I least expect her.
Find the Queen Inspection Procedure
Trick #4 Develop a Procedure of Your Own and Practice it Every time
Every beekeeper has their own procedure to follow for hive inspections. This is mine.
When I inspect my colonies, I use a bee smoker. Usually, only a small puff or two is needed. The cool, white smoke disrupts the alarm pheromones of the colony.
I lightly smoke the hive entrance with some cool white smoke. Proper use of your bee smoker is important – don’t over smoke.
After waiting a few minutes, I lift off the telescoping top. Using my hive tool, I pry the inner cover off and lay it aside. Any super boxes on the hive are removed in the same way and set aside.
A little smoke makes the job much easier, especially when you need to inspect several frames. Inspection is much easier without angry bees bouncing off your veil.
Take your time – use a little smoke and get the job done.
My first goal is to inspect the deep brood box (the one on the bottom) where I think the queen is most likely to be. If I do not find her there, I will look in the next box higher in the stack and so on.
Removing Frames During Hive Inspection
Now, it’s time to put my 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.
Using my hook hive tool , I remove the frame in the #2 position. I have 10 frames in my beehives. So, I am removing the second frame from the left (my left when standing behind the hive.)
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.
You must try to lift the frame straight up and not rub 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. We never know for sure where the queen will be and she could be on the first frame that you remove.
Sometimes, I sit frames on the ground and lean them against the hive. It works but I have also clumsily stepped into the and made the bees – MAD!
If my queen bee was on one of those frames she might be injured or killed. The frame perch prevents that problem.
Look at the frame you just removed (yes, even the first one) the queen could be anywhere. If you do not see her, place the frame on your frame perch.
I now have more room to work inside the hive without squeezing bees. I can remove the next frame moving towards the center of the hive.
Quickly inspect both sides of each frame as soon as you remove them from the hive. Once I find a frame that has small larva or eggs, you should begin a serious search. I look at the center of the frame and work my way outwards.
Another aid in learning how to find a queen bee is to look for her retinue. A retinue is a small number of worker bees that feed and clean the queen.
When she is laying eggs, or resting, this small number of bees will surround her and care for her.
After the second frame is inspected and I do not find the queen, I place it back in the hive. Some extra room is available because I have one frame removed on my frame perch.
Hopefully, I will find the queen on one of the frames. Lift each one 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. Most often, I am able to find the queen somewhere in the bottom box.
I will carefully replace the frame with the queen. And then replace the other frames and push all the frames snugly together .
The last frame returned to the box will be the #2 frame that I removed in the beginning.
When Must You Find the Queen?
If you did not find the queen what should you do? I have great news. You don’t always have to . Seriously you don’t. But I know you want to because I want to as well.
On a few occasions, you will need to find your her. It is vital to find the queen bee when you wish to replace her with another.
Another time that finding the her is important to me is when making a split. If I want to split a large colony into 2 smaller colonies, I like knowing where the queen is located.
I often leave the old queen in one hive and introduce a new queen to the other. You do not want to end up with 2 queens in one hive and none in the other.
It will enhance your beekeeping experience if you learn how to find the queen bee for those special situations.
Queen Right is Right!
The ability to discern whether or not your hive is “queen right” is very important to your beekeeping adventure. A queen right hive has a healthy, mated queen laying a good brood pattern.
How do you know that your hive is queen right? You must find the queen OR very young larva and eggs.
A single egg in each cell attached to the bottom of the cell is normal. This information tells you that a queen has been on that frame within the last 3 days. Eggs hatch into larva in 3 days.
Sometimes it is difficult to see eggs. (There’s that magnifying glass idea again. ) Look for very small larva.
White grub-like larva that do not fill the bottom of the cell are less than 7 days old.
Any inspection is a disturbance of the bee colony. You can’t spend all day in there. If you do not need to remove the queen from the hive, evidence of a queen (eggs/larva) is a reasonable indicator of queen status. Carefully replace any frames and close the hive.
Trick #5 It Takes Time – You Will Get Better
A honey bee queen has a certain way of walking. Her large abdomen waggles across the frame of honeycomb. As the years go by, I get better at being able to find her quickly.
Experience is the best teacher for learning how to find the queen bee. You will see queens of different colors and sizes.
Eventually your eyes and mind will put together the correct clues to enable you to say – “There she is – I found the queen!”
Can You Find the Queen Bee?
Enjoy this short practice. You will see a picture of a mass of bees. In a few seconds, an arrow will reveal the queen. Pause the video if you want a longer time to search for her. (Depending on your device – the video may be playing at the top of the screen) Just Pause it .
Now get out there and find those queen bees
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