Finding the Queen - The Beekeeper's Guide
Many beekeepers, new and experienced alike, struggle to find the queen. It’s a skill that can and should be developed as early as possible in your beekeeping journey. There are generally between 30-60 thousand bees in a hive. Trying to find just one can be a daunting task, but these tips will help you find the queen in your hive.
The easiest way to find your queen is to mark her. You can pay extra to have her marked or you can mark her yourself. You can use different colored pens to help you determine the age of your queen for future inspections. You cannot always rely on this method, however, because the marking may wear off or the colony may requeen itself. If you are marking your queen, make sure to only mark her “thorax.” Do not get paint on any other part of her body.
If you need to locate the queen quickly, the best place to begin looking is in the brood nest. Since her job is to lay eggs, that’s the most likely place to find her. Sometimes she won’t be there though, so don’t despair if she’s not.
One of the main distinguishing characteristics of a queen is the size of her abdomen – it is elongated because a mated queen holds a lifetime of eggs in her body. Additionally, she uses this length to get down into the honeycomb cells to lay her eggs. Queens can vary in size, however, and don’t have to be a whole lot bigger than the worker bees. The queen’s legs are also longer, but her wings are comparatively short – they don’t come close to reaching the end of her abdomen. A queen’s back is black and shiny and lacks the fuzz that other bees have.
Using color to find a queen doesn’t work because queens vary in color.
Due to her large abdomen, a queen bee walks differently. Next time you find the queen, study this movement. It may help you locate her in the future. Also, the queen often moves with purpose while the other bees clear a path for her. If you look for a wake behind her or a disruption in the pattern of bees, you may find her easily.
- Don’t keep the hive open for extended periods of time looking for the queen. If you take too long, the queen will hide, often in the corner of a box, and be much harder to find.
- If you find eggs or young brood, you know you have a queen even if you can’t find her.
- Eggs are small and not easily seen, so a large magnifying glass may help.
- Eggs mean that a queen was present within the last three days.
- Using a frame perch to hold one to three frames will make the hive inspection easier.
- Use a smoker to keep the bees calm while looking for the queen.
Practice Makes Perfect ...
... or so the saying goes. Professional beekeeper Hilary Kearney wrote a book called Queenspotting. In this book, she includes large fold-out images to give you practice finding queens. Plus, you can check her out on Instagram where she posts queenspotting pictures. Good luck with your next queenspotting adventure.