How to Spot the Queen Bee: Simple Techniques for Beekeepers

How to Spot the Queen Bee1

Introduction

Identifying the queen bee is an essential beekeeper skill, ensuring the health and productivity of a honey bee hive. This guide focuses on how to tell a queen bee apart from other bees by examining her physical traits, behavior, and effective search techniques.

Key Points

  1. Physical Traits: The queen bee is the largest bee in the hive, with a longer and larger abdomen extending beyond her wings. Unlike worker bees, she has a shiny, hairless back and longer, splayed legs. Her wings are shorter relative to her body.
  2. Behaviour: The queen moves quickly and purposefully, often surrounded by worker bees. She is usually found in the brood nest, where she is laying eggs, and is often surrounded by a circle of worker bees.
  3. Search Techniques: Start inspecting from the uppermost box of the hive, working downwards. Spend about 5 seconds per side of each frame, and use minimal smoke to avoid causing the queen to hide. Marking queens with a small dot can aid in identification, but it’s crucial to practice finding unmarked queens to maintain proficiency.

By understanding these key points, beekeepers can enhance their ability to find the queen, ensuring a thriving and productive bee colony.

Physical Appearance of the Queen Bee

Size and Shape

a bee on a honeycomb
  • Larger Abdomen: The queen bee’s abdomen is significantly larger and longer than a worker bee, extending well beyond her wings. This elongated abdomen allows a healthy queen to lay a high volume of eggs.
  • Distinctive Features: The queen’s back is shiny and hairless, which sets her apart from the fuzzier worker bees. Additionally, her legs are longer and more splayed out, aiding in her distinctive movement and posture.
  • Wing Length: Despite her larger body size, the queen’s wings are shorter relative to her body. This makes her appear more robust and less aerodynamically proportioned compared to worker bees.
  • Colour Variations: While the queen’s colour can range from light to dark, these variations are not as reliable for identification as her size and shape. Focusing on her abdomen size and distinctive back and legs is more effective for recognising the queen.

Behaviour and Movement

Movement Patterns

  • Purposeful Movement: Queen bees move with a sense of purpose, often quickly and directly. Worker bees instinctively clear a path for her as she navigates through the hive, making her movement more noticeable.
  • Resting Behavior: When the queen is at rest, worker honey bees surround her in a protective, flower-like pattern. This formation not only indicates her presence but also facilitates her feeding and grooming by the attending workers.
Close-up image of a queen bee surrounded by worker bees in a protective flower-like pattern on a honeycomb.

Hive Location

Queen bee tending to her brood on a honeycomb, surrounded by worker bees.
  • Brood Frames: The queen is most commonly found on frames containing new eggs, as she spends much of her time laying and tending to her brood.
  • Central Position: In a vertical hive, she typically occupies the middlebox, while in a horizontal hive, she is usually centred. This central location ensures optimal temperature and care for the developing capped brood.

Tips on How to Spot the Queen Bee

Inspection Techniques

  1. Start from the Top Box: Begin your inspection from the uppermost part of the box and methodically work your way down through the hive. This helps maintain a systematic approach and prevents missing any frames.
  2. Quick Frame Inspection: Spend approximately 5 seconds examining each side of a frame. This quick inspection helps to cover more ground efficiently while keeping the bees calm.
  3. Visual Frame Sectioning: Divide each frame into three sections visually. This technique allows you to focus on smaller areas at a time, making it easier to identify the queen among other bees.

Minimal Smoke Use

  • Smoke Impact: Using minimal smoke is crucial because too much smoke can cause the queen bee to hide within the hive. This makes it harder to find the queen and can disrupt her from laying eggs. Keeping smoke to a minimum helps maintain a calm environment, allowing for easier identification of the queen bee among other bees.

Marked vs. Unmarked Queens

  • Marked Queens: Many beekeepers use a marking pen to place a small dot on the queen’s thorax, making her easier to spot amidst the hive. This practice can significantly simplify the process of finding the queen.
  • Marking Colours: There is a standardised colour code for marking queens by year, which helps most beekeepers keep track of the queen’s age:
    • White: Years ending in 1 or 6
    • Yellow: Years ending in 2 or 7
    • Red: Years ending in 3 or 8
    • Green: Years ending in 4 or 9
    • Blue: Years ending in 5 or 0

Using these colour codes can help you quickly determine the year a particular queen was introduced to your hive.

Practice and Regular Checks

  • Regular Inspections: Conduct beehive inspections every 5-7 days to monitor the presence and health of the queen bee. Regular checks help you become familiar with the hive’s dynamics and make it easier to identify the queen.
  • Practice Tools: Enhance your skills by engaging in activities like the “Queenspotting” game or using resources such as the book “QueenSpotting.” These tools provide practical experience and tips on how to tell the queen bee apart from other bees like the male bees in the hive.
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06/07/2024 04:03 pm GMT

Conclusion

Developing the skill to spot the queen bee is essential for effective hive management and maintaining a healthy bee colony. Understanding how to tell the queen bee apart from other bees involves recognizing her distinct traits, such as her larger abdomen, shiny back, and splayed legs. Unlike the worker bee, the queen is often surrounded by a retinue of attendants and moves purposefully across the hive.

Observing her behaviour, including her role in producing eggs within the brood nest, helps pinpoint her location. Using proper techniques, such as minimal smoke application to avoid too much smoke, quick frame inspections, and visual frame sectioning, can significantly aid in finding the queen.

Regular hive inspections every 5-7 days allows beekeepers to monitor the queen’s health and ensure she is actively producing eggs. Marking the queen with a colour-coded dot according to the year of introduction can simplify future inspections and help track the age of a particular queen.

Practice tools like the “Queenspotting” game and educational resources such as the book “QueenSpotting” can further enhance your ability to find the queen. These tools provide practical experience and valuable tips on how to tell the queen bee apart from other bees.

Mastering the ability to identify the queen bee ensures the health and productivity of your honey bee hive, making it a critical aspect of successful beekeeping. By honing this important skill, you can better manage your hives, monitor for issues, and ensure thriving bee colonies.

FAQs about the Queen bee

What are the key physical characteristics of a queen bee?

A queen bee is larger than worker bees, with a longer abdomen that extends past her wings. She also has a smooth, shiny thorax and a distinct, curved stinger. She is the only bee in the hive capable of laying fertilised worker eggs.

How does the behaviour of a queen bee differ from worker bees?

The queen bee often moves slowly and purposefully across the comb, surrounded by worker bees who groom and feed her. She is typically found near the brood frame where larvae develop.

What are some tips for quickly locating the queen bee in a hive?

Look for a large cluster of bees in the brood area, as they often surround the queen. Finding the queen can be easier by looking for the area with the most worker eggs. Using a frame holder can help you systematically inspect each frame.

Can the queen bee be marked for easier identification?

Yes, many beekeepers mark the queen with a small dot of non-toxic paint on her thorax. This makes finding the queen quicker and helps track her over time, especially when monitoring for a new queen or distinguishing from an old queen.

What tools can assist in spotting the queen bee?

A queen excluder can help by isolating her to a specific area. A magnifying glass can also aid in identifying her distinctive physical traits among the worker bees. Additionally, understanding her role in mating flights and her interactions with drones can provide clues.

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Jonathan Gaze

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