Finding the Queen Bee

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One of the most frustrating lessons for new beekeepers is learning how to find the queen bee. Thankfully, you don’t always have to find her but there will be times when you really need to see your queen. If you are someone who really struggles with this tasks – never fear. It does get easier with practice and experience. In the meantime, I will share with you some tips to help you find the queen bee in your beehive.

Frame from a beehive with bees and the queen bee that a beekeeper is looking for.

It is not only beginner beekeepers who struggle to find a queen bee. Heck, we old beekeepers have a hard time sometimes. After all these years, I still have trouble on occasion.

How to Spot the Queen Honey Bee

Being able to track down that elusive queen can be quite a task. 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. And, they won’t stand still!

I often tell the students in my online beekeeping class, that they need to keep two factors in mind when searching for their queen bee.

  • know how to identify a queen
  • know where to look first

Can You Identify a Queen?

You can not get better at finding the queen bee if you don’t know what she looks like! Overall, honey bee characteristics are similar. But, there are a couple of special features that help distinguish the queen.

  • size
  • abdomen
  • coloring
Queen honey bees on comb with large abdomen and thorax labeled.

In length, she is the largest bee in the hive. Unfortunately, the size of the queen bee is not always a sign of her quality. In addition to her long abdomen, her thorax is slightly larger than worker bees. This is why queen excluders can be used to keep her out of honey supers.

Some races have queen bees of lighter colors that are easier to find but you can’t count on that. For instances, it is common for Carniolan honey bees or Russian honey bees to have dark queens.

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

Know Where to Look First

I like to limit the time my hive is open. Therefore, I want to begin looking for my queen bee in the area of the hive where she is most likely to be.

What is the role of the queen in the colony? She is the egg layer. Therefore, the brood nest of the hive is the most likely place for her to be. However, keep in mind that she could be anywhere in the hive and proceed with care.

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Step by Step Looking for the Queen

1. Prepare yourself before opening the hive. Time to put on protective beekeeping clothing (whatever you find comfortable). Light your bee smoker – you want cool white smoke. Give a couple of gentle puffs at the hive entrance and under the top cover.

A 10 frame langstroth hive with numbered frames .

2. Remove the top and inner cover and set them aside. Most of the time, I find my queen in the brood box or deep chamber of my hive.

I set aside any top boxes for a moment so I can get to the heart of the hive. Use your smoker a bit if needed – a little white smoke calms bees.

3. Now, it is time to the the hive tool to work. Any kind will work – I love my hooked hive tools. Seriously, I think I have 5 or 6 of these – they make beekeeping so much easier on days that my hands hurt.

I remove the frame the #2 position. This is the second frame from the left (my left 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 their young or bee 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.

4. 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 your queen, place the frame on your frame perch. Or safely set it aside. Don’t forget to look on both sides of the comb.

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

Worker bees in brood nest of hive with capped brood and bee larvae.

5. Once you find a frame that has small bee larvae 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.

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

6. Hopefully, after a few frames you find your queen bee! 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 Spotting 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 bee a bit easier.

  • mark your queens
  • develop a hive inspection procedure
  • don’t bee fooled by a drone
  • 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 bee 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.

Develop a Hive Inspection Procedure

Every beekeeper has their own procedure for hive inspections. For queen spotting, inspect the place where the queen bee is most likely to be first.

For me, that is often the bottom deep box. But, your “brood nest” may be higher up in the hive stack – it depends on how many boxes are on your hive and where the bees are working within the stack.

Mistaking Drone Bees for a Queen

One important fact about queen bees – they are larger. You are looking for the biggest bee, right? 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.

Large drone bee in hive and a dark queen bee with long abdomen.

Queen Bees Walk Funny

In the hive, a queen is often surrounded by her retinue (a group of workers who care for her). But, 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 learn to recognize it. 


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.

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. For the full video – 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.