Tips on Finding the Queen

Last summer we surveyed readers, asking “what do you know now that you wish you’d known in the beginning?”

We got nearly a thousand answers, thank you very much! And, we’ve continued to ask beekeepers, because we’re finding the answers to “what you wished you’d known” very helpful for what to put in our newsletter.

The seventh most frequent answer we received was “I wish I’d known how to find the queen.”

Didn’t we all?! And don’t most of us still wish that? Even after gaining experience, queens can be very elusive.

Here are five tips for finding the queen:

1. Know What She Looks Like

Most references will tell you that Her Royal Majesty is the largest bee in the hive. There are some very large drones out there, although drones are usually broader, almost “beefy.” The queen is longer, especially compared to a worker bee. 

Study pictures of queens to aid in quickly locating her amongst thousands of very similar stinging insects. We have some excellent pictures in our March, 2012 issue if you want to practice.

 

2. Know Where She Likely Is

The queen usually hangs around the brood nest, on the frames with open cells where she can lay eggs.

If you can’t find her there, know that the longer the hive is open, the more likely she is to be in some more-obscure location. She doesn’t want to be found. For example, if you’re working the top box of a two-box hive and don’t find her in the top box, the chances are greater that she’s in the bottom box—having fled there, than in the top box and you just haven’t seen her.

3. Know the Bee-havior

When the queen walks through her loyal subjects, they usually quickly make way for her, and then quickly close in. So, as you search a frame, areas of more bee movement are a possible indication of where she is, or where she just was.

Small groups of worker bees on the frame are another possible indication, as they tend to hang around her. They also tend to turn toward her, attending to her every need.

Please see the article in our May, 2012 issue on queen behavior retinues, by retired Washington State Apiarist, James Bach. In the previous photo from Bach, that queen has a respectable retinue.

If things in the hive are unsettling (and for some colonies, being inspected is very unsettling), bee-havior may be unpredictable. (Meaning good luck finding the queen; the usual guidelines might not apply.)

 

4. Put a Kid in a Beesuit

When all else fails, an interested kid can quickly spot a queen. Something about their young eyes and how they like to make adults feel ancient.

Or, in the case of 10-year-old Steven this summer, who inspected one of my hives with me for his first time ever, he quickly spotted both queens … right after I explained there’s only one queen per hive. Thanks, bees.

 

5. Find Eggs or Larva

If you can’t find the queen, try and find eggs. (This is even harder to spot for those of us with more “mature” eyes.) Eggs don’t mean you have a queen, but indicate you had one within the last three days. Assuming she wasn’t killed, she’s probably in the hive … just keep an eye on it.

Larva is easier to spot, but again, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have a queen, but you had one eight days ago.

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