Learning How to Mark a Queen Bee
Successful honey bee colonies require quality, healthy queen bees. It is the job of the beekeeper to monitor hive conditions and queen status. Having marked queens makes the job much easier. So, new beekeepers need to learn how to mark your queen bee.
Why do Beekeepers Mark Queen Bees?
As with all things related to beekeeping, you will find that beekeeper opinions on queen marking vary from one person to another.
The benefits of having a marked queen in your hives are easy to understand.
If you mark her with a special color for the year, you will always know how old she is.
This can be beneficial in honey bee management. Why?
Because if you have an older queen in a production colony, you know the chances of her failing are greater than that of a young queen.
You may choose to leave her in place as long as she is doing a good job – but perhaps you may check her quality a bit more often.
For new beekeepers, having a marked queen makes it much easier to actually find her. This skill gets better with time and experience.
However, sometimes you really need to be able to locate her for hive maintenance. Marked queens are much easier to locate.
Once you get to the stage where you can “almost always” find your queen bee, having her marked makes the process much faster.
This can help you conduct hive inspections quickly and ensure that you spot the queen early on and put her frame in a safe place.
What does this mean?
- the colony has swarmed and you are seeing a new queen
- the paint/marker has rubbed off the old queen
- the colony is preparing to swarm or replace their queen-you temporarily have 2 in there!
The bottom line is that having marked queens in your beehives will let you know (for the most part) when the queen has changed. The original queen has been replaced for whatever reason.
This is valuable information for the beekeeper who is working to breed bees with certain characteristics.
If you produce colony with superior varroa mite control it is good to know where the queen in the hive originated.
When to Mark a Queen Honey Bee?
A beekeeper who buys bees will often be given the choice between receiving a marked queen or unmarked queen.
Expect to pay a few dollars more if you want a marked queen. This is to compensate for the extra effort and time required of the bee producer.
Almost all purchased queens have already mated. They arrive at the hive ready to lay and build the colony. These queens will never leave the hive unless the colony swarms.
Most queen breeders do not advise the marking of virgin queens. These queens have yet to take their mating flights.
There is no reason to have them flying around with a colored dot on their back.
If you receive an unmarked queen, the best time to mark her is within the first month. Many beekeepers mark the new queen when they install her. This is perfectly fine.
When I introduce a new queen into a queenless colony, I live to give the bees a few weeks to accept and get to know her.
Then, once she is accepted and laying eggs-she is marked. It is a good idea to do this while the colony is smaller with fewer bees in the hive.
International Queen Bee Color Chart
A beekeeper can mark the queen honey bee with any color. However, using the International Queen Bee Color Chart is easier.
You do not have to rely on your memory to know which color was used for which year.
Use the color pen that corresponds with the last digit of the year. White 1,6 Yellow 2,7 Red 3,8 Green 4,9 Blue 5,0. So, a queen reared in 2020 would be marked with a blue dot, 2021 – a white dot, etc..
What do You Use to Mark a Queen?
Before you can get busy marking your queens, you need to have the necessary materials on hand.
One popular paint used for queen marking is the simple UNI-POSCA Markers. These are available online and at major beekeeping supply stores.
Another option for some beekeepers is the use of Testor model paint. This paint takes a bit longer to dry than using the markers.
Do these paints have toxic effects on the queen bee? That does not seem to be a problem. Also, we are only putting a small dot on one part of her back.
Catching the Queen Bee for Marking
If you have a steady hand and calm nerves, you can take the direct approach to catching your queen. Restraining your queen in this manner takes some skill.
Gently grasp her and hold her body between your thumb and 1st finger. The second finger provides a place for her feet to sit.
Move your fingers to expose the top of her thorax and paint a small dot there. After, letting the paint dry for a minute or so – place her gently back on the frame.
If the idea of picking up your queen in this manner makes your blood pressure rise – never fear, there are other options.
Using a queen marking tube is the easiest method to safely mark your queens.
Find the frame with the queen and gently lay it down with the queen side facing up.
Remove the foam-covered plunger from the tube and “corral the queen into the tube”. Replace the foam plunger and gently push the queen to the end with a mesh covering.
Continue to gently nudge her until her back (thorax) is against the mesh. Do not use too much force – be gentle.
Now, mark her with your queen pen marker or paint. If using a queen pen, do a test blob on a nearby piece of wood first. Sometimes the first bit of paint is too much.
Do not get paint on her wings, antenna or legs. We only want a small dot of color on her back.
Allow the mark to dry for a minute or 2, then remove the plunger and place the open end of the tube down on the top of a frame. The queen will crawl out and join the colony.
Regardless of the marking method that you use, unexpected situations can arise.
If the queen were to take flight, stand still. Do not move for a couple of minutes. In most cases, she will return to her colony.
While some beekeepers feel that marking queens may cause a colony to reject her, this is not normally the case.
Having marking queen bees provides assistance to the the beekeeper in the vast majority of situations.