Finding the queen bee in your hives can be a challenging activity, even for an experienced beekeeper! Some queens are plump and shine like a gold beacon on the frames, while others can seem to have camouflage. Learning how to find the queen bee is one of the most frustrating lessons, and having a quality queen is vital to the success of any bee colony.
Your ability to find your queen inside of a beehive depends on her size, color, and on her behavior, too! You will see some queens flaunt themselves out in the open while others will hurry to corners and hide. You will need to perform various hive management tasks to find your queen successfully.
So, how can you increase your chances and work on your ability to find the queen? If you are currently struggling to find your queen, you are not alone, but you can get better at it with the correct information!
How The Queen Looks (In All Aspects)
The queen bee is the leader of her bee colony and is the mother of most, if not all, of its worker bees and drone bees. A healthy queen is crucial to the health and well-being of the hive. When the queen gets old or dies, the hive will quickly die if it can’t get a new queen in time.
Beekeepers should 100% know how to distinguish a queen bee from the others to maintain their hives. It is their choice to mark their queen, but it is often not recommended. Therefore, it is best to learn how to identify and mark your queen by looking for differences in behavior, location, and physical characteristics.
- Physical appearance.
Your queen bee can easily be distinguished from other bees by her appearance, but she’s not as obvious as you would think she would be. Often when new beekeepers see the queen for the first time in person, they mention that they thought she would be bigger.
Queen bees can vary in size, but she is usually only slightly larger than a worker bee. What distinguishes her the most would be that she has a longer abdomen and her legs are longer as well.
Her wings are very short when compared to her body, and is unable to reach the end of her abdomen, which is the opposite of the other bees in a colony. Her back is bald, black of color, and shiny!
A lot of new beekeepers try to rely on the queen’s color for identifying her. They may mistakenly believe that the queens are a lighter color than the workers, or they may only search for the colorful mark of paint on the back of the queen without ever really doing research on her true appearance.
What they often do not know is that queens can be a range of colors, and the paint on marked queens can wear off over time. Searching for your queen based solely on the superficial feature of color will handicap your true ability to find the queen.
So, you may have already learned to find your queen because she is golden and marked with a red piece of paint. If this is not there identifying her, you might not be able to spot a queen.
This makes it difficult for new colonies to raise a queen themselves, who is a different color than your original, and she has no mark. It is much better and smarter to look beyond her coloring and instead, studying her coloring, shape, movements, and habits.
Identifying Your Queen By Sight
- Look for the largest bee. The queen bee will almost always be the largest bee in the colony. Sometimes drones can be as big or even bigger than the queen, but you can easily tell them apart by thickness. The queen bee will be longer than the queen, but you can tell them apart by thickness. The queen ee will be longer as well as narrower than any of the other bees.
- Check for a pointed abdomen. A bee’s abdomen is the lower part of its body, nearest to the stinger. Honeybees have blunt abdomens, but the queen’s abdomen will have a much more pointed shape. You can easily tell who the queen is this way.
- Look for a bee with splayed legs. Worker bees and drone bees have legs that are directly under their bodies- you will not be able to see much of their legs if you are looking at them from a raised angle. The queen bee has legs that splay outward, making them much more visible than the other bees’ legs.
- Look for a stinger without barbs. As you would hopefully know by now, there is only one queen per hive box. If you find more than one bee that might be the queen, gently lift each bee by its thorax (which is the middle of its body). Hold them under a magnifying glass and inspect each one’s stinger. Workers, drones, and virgin queens will have barbs on their stingers. The queen bee’s stinger is smooth and un-barbed.
Movement and Pattern
When your queen makes her way across the frame, she almost always moves with a purpose. She charges quickly through worker bees, who will often quickly move out of her way, leaving a wake of an empty comb behind her.
The queen’s movement creates a visual break in the pattern of the hive. Some beekeepers can find their queens just by searching for this disruption. The pattern also changes when she is sitting still.
A resting queen will have a circle of worker bees around her. The circle almost looks like a flower-like shape, each worker representing a petal facing the queen in the center.
Identifying Your Queen Bee By Movement And Pattern
- Look for any unusual activity inside of the hive. The queen may move around within her hive. If you notice any unusual activity inside the hive, such as bees clustering together or larvae where you don’t usually see them, the queen may be nearby!
- Locate the larvae inside your hive. Gently remove each hive frame and look for larvae. They look like tiny white grubs, and you will usually see them in piles next to each other. Since the queen lays all eggs in the colony, she will most likely be nearby. Pay close attention to carefully lift and replace the hive frames, as you could accidentally kill the queen.
- Check for hidden places. The queen bee will never be hanging out on the edge of the hive or outside of the hive. She will most likely be very deep in the hive and completely away from the outside disturbances. If you have a vertical hive box, your queen will probably be on one of the bottom frames. If you have a horizontal hive, look for your queen more towards the center.
Queens is in the business of laying eggs, so the most likely place to find your queen would be in the nursery. Although it is definitely possible, the queen is unlikely to be on frames that are entirely full of honey.
For that reason, you should always observe brood frames more carefully, especially those that have new eggs on them. If you need to find your queen, you should also be fairly quick at it, or just as quick as you could possibly be!
Queens will tend to hide if the colony feels exposed or disturbed. The longer you have your hive’s lid open, the more likely your queen would be to flee into a corner.
Identifying The Queen Bee By Behavior
- Watch for bees moving out of the way. Workers and drones will always move out of the way when the queen is on the move. After she passes, they will cluster together where she was. So it is a good idea to keep an eye out for bees moving out of the way.
- Look for a bee who isn’t doing anything. The queen bee is fed by the rest of the hie and has no duties except for continuously laying eggs. Keep an eye out for a bee that doesn’t seem to have a job because that could most probably be your queen.
- Check if your bees are feeding a specific bee. The queen will always have all her needs attended to by the rest of the hive. Look for bees that are giving attention and providing food for another bee. However, this may not always be the queen, and it could be a virgin queen or a young bee, but the chances are pretty good that it will be the queen.
Other common traits of the queen bee
You won’t be able to spot your queen if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for!
Below is a list of some more common traits of the queen bee and some additional things to look for:
- The queen bee is approximately 50% larger than the rest of the worker bees
- The queen is considerably longer than the worker bees
- The queen is often darker in color than the worker bees. She may be a caramel color with black stripes or dark black and brown. She may not have any stripes at all or just a couple at the bottom of her body.
- Queens often walk slower and move differently than worker bees. When you spot your queen, observe how she walks around the frame.
- Sometimes you will see a circle of bees facing the queen. These bees are sometimes referred to as her attendants. Heir job is to feed her, groom her, and take out her waste.
Practice, Practice, and some more practice!
If you are a hobbyist with only a few hives, you might not have many opportunities to practice finding your queen. Many beekeepers still struggle to develop this skill even after having several years of beekeeping. Luckily, you can practice without ever opening your hives by doing enough research and educating yourself!
How To Find Your Queen
- Check the brood nest for evidence of a queen
Sometimes you need to find the queen in a hurry. You need to ask yourself questions like, “Where is the queen bee most likely to bee?” (See what I did there?) As we all know, a honey bee queen must lay all the eggs.
Egg-laying normally begins in one central area of the hive and then expands outward. First, find the brood nest, which is the area inside a honey bee colony that holds all the eggs, larvae, and capped brood.
Locate frames that have eggs or larva (milk brood). This will be the youngest part of the brood nest and most likely the place for the queen to be.
However, it is important to know that the queen could be anywhere, so be careful when manipulating any hive parts. Sometimes, she is where you would least expect it!
- Develop a hive inspection procedure
When looking for the queen bee during a hive inspection, there are a couple of things you can do to increase your chances of finding her. Firstly, it would be a good idea to go easy on the smoke. Too much smoke could cause your queen to go into hiding.
Second, go straight to the brood nest. The queen will most likely be on a frame with new eggs. Never waste your time searching frames that are predominantly honey or capped brood!
- Removing frames during your hive inspection
During this step, it is a good idea to put your hook hive tool to work. Hook hive tools make the art of beekeeping so much easier when it’s cold or when your hands just don’t seem to do the trick!
Using the hook hive tool, remove the first frame. By removing the frame that is near the outside, there is going to be a smaller chance for the queen to be there. Bees tend to have the biggest part of their brood in the middle of the hive.
Try to lift the frame straight up and try your best not to let the frame rub against neighboring frames if possible. You do not want to squash your dear queen. As mentioned before, we as beekeepers can never know for sure where the queen is going to be, so she could actually be on the first frame that you remove. This is why you have to be particularly careful!
A frame perch or frame holder is a beneficial tool to hold frames out of the way while you are doing your work. Every beekeeper is advised to have one, as a frame perch will not aggravate your bees as much.
Have a look at the frame you have just removed. If you are unable to spot your queen, you may place the frame on your frame perch. By doing this, you now have more room to work inside of your hive without squeezing bees.
You can remove the next frame, moving towards the center of the hive! Once you find a frame that has small larva or eggs, you should begin a serious search. Start by inspecting the center of the frame and work outwards.
Place it back into the hive after the second frame is inspected and you do not find the queen. Some extra room will still be available because you have one frame removed and placed on the frame perch.
Lift each frame with care and hold it over the hive while inspecting. If the queen falls off the frame, she will fall back into the hive instead of on the ground.
- Placing your queen safely back into her hive
By now, you should have found your queen, which means you have had a successful day at beekeeping! Carefully put that frame back into the hive, and then replace the other frames and push all the frames together.
What If You Did Not Find Your Queen Bee?
Oh no. it looks like you did not find the queen. What should you do? Don’t worry; there is some good news! You don’t always have to find your queen bee. It is logical that you would want to find her, but most of the time, you only need to know that your hive is “queen right.” This means that your hive has a healthy, mater queen-laying brood pattern!
Even if you only see a single egg in each cell attached to the bottom of the cell, you still do not have to worry. This information indicates that a queen has been on that frame within the last three days.
Many new beekeepers are full of excitement during early hive inspections and easily get overwhelmed when they are unable to find their queen. Looking at your bees should be the best part of any beekeeper’s day, and you shouldn’t let it bring you down when you can’t always find your queen during a hive inspection!
Remember the following
You don’t have to see the queen when you are opening your hive. All you need to check for are signs of a healthy queen. This means that you are seeing eggs, larvae, and capped brood, as well as a healthy laying pattern. A healthy laying pattern has every cell filled with brood.
A spotty laying pattern has a lot of empty cells scattered throughout a section of the brood. Bear in mind that if any of the cells are empty and you see capped brood, the bees might have recently hatched. However, if you see a lot of empty cells scattered throughout the larvae or eggs, the queen may not be very fertile.
If you are having trouble understanding a laying pattern, do not worry, as it is a little confusing. Understanding laying patterns can be described as intermediate beekeeping. It is definitely something you can note in your beekeeping book to learn more about at a later stadium.
If you do not have great vision and are having a bit of trouble with spotting eggs, don’t be concerned! There are certain times when you will definitely need to find your queen. These are times when you want to split your hive or replace your queen.
When you decide to conduct a mite test, you don’t really need to find the queen, but you want to make sure the frame doesn’t have a queen on it before you use the bees on it for your test. This is why you will probably need to spot your queen.
Since you do not need to spot the queen every time you inspect the hive, once you have gotten the hang of queen spotting and can find her when it is needed, you may want to give her a bit of a break and not try to find her during the next few inspections, as you wouldn’t want your queen to be under stress!
As a beekeeper, I would say one of the most important things you can possibly do for both yourself and your bees would be never to stop doing research! When you know exactly what to look for and why to look for it, you will always have success with your hives, all while having fun and educating yourself along the way.
When you know exactly how your queen looks and how your brood patterns should look, you will always catch a queenless hive early enough to provide tthe hive with a new queen, if they are unable to make a new one queen themselves.
I hope you have learned a lot more about beekeeping by reading this guide. I know I certainly did while writing it! Happy beekeeping!