The queen bee is the leader of a hive and the mother of most worker bees and drones; sometimes she even mothers all the bees in the hive. It is always essential to have a healthy queen to keep the hive balanced. When she ages or dies, the hive will also die if a new queen doesn't show up in time. To conserve hives, beekeepers must know the difference between a queen bee and common bees in order to identify and mark it. For this, it is necessary to observe the differences in behavior, location and physical characteristics of the queen.
Part 1 of 4: Identifying with the Naked Eye
Step 1. Search for the biggest bee
The queen bee will almost always be the largest bee in the hive. Sometimes, drones can be the same size as the queen or even bigger than her. However, you can differentiate them by their width. The queen will be bigger and narrower than all the other bees.
Step 2. Look for the bee with the sharp abdomen
A bee's abdomen is in the lower part of its body, near the stinger. The queen has a sharper abdomen, unlike common bees, which have a more rounded abdomen. From there, it's easy to identify her.
Step 3. Look for the bee that has its legs outstretched
The legs of worker bees and drones are under the body, so you won't be able to see them, especially if you look at them from above. In the case of the queen, the legs are stretched out, which makes identification much easier.
Step 4. Find the bee that has a stingless sting
There is only one queen bee in each hive. If you find more than one bee that could be the queen, gently lift each one by the chest (the middle of the body). Hold them under a magnifying glass and check the sting. Workers, drones and virgin queens will have barbed stingers. The queen's stinger is smooth and barb-free.
Part 2 of 4: Looking in the Right Places
Step 1. Find the larvae
Carefully remove each comb and look for larvae. They look like little white caterpillars and you usually find them stacked next to each other. Since the queen lays all her eggs in the hive, she will likely be nearby.
Be very careful when removing and replacing the combs, as you can kill the queen without meaning to
Step 2. Search for hidden compartments
The queen will not be giving soup in the corners of the hive or outside. She will most likely be further into the hive, away from the turmoil. If you have a vertical hive, the queen will likely be in one of the supports at the bottom; if the hive is horizontal, look for it in the middle.
Step 3. Observe if there is any unusual movement in the hive
The queen can keep moving around inside her. When you notice some strange activity in there, like bees flocking or larvae in places where they shouldn't be, it means the queen is nearby.
Part 3 of 4: Identifying by Behavior
Step 1. See if the bees start to move away from a certain path
Workers and drones will always stay out of the queen's way while she is moving. After it passes, the bees will gather again where it passed. Keep an eye out for the moment they start to move away from a specific path.
Step 2. Find the bee that is not doing anything
The queen is fed by the rest of the hive and has no obligations except laying eggs. Pay attention and look for the bee that does practically nothing inside the hive, as it can be the queen owner.
Step 3. See if there are bees fed a specific bee
All of the queen's needs will be taken care of by the other bees. Look for bees that are paying attention and serving some other bee in particular. Maybe it's not the queen but a virgin queen or even a young bee. However, the chances of being the majesty itself are great.
Part 4 of 4: Marking the Queen
Step 1. Choose the correct ink color
Beekeepers have designated colors that serve to identify queens born in specific years. This marking helps you to catch it quickly and also to check if the hive will need a new queen soon. Pay attention when choosing the color before marking it.
- Any acrylic paint will do. Many beekeepers use paint for miniatures or permanent markers.
- White ink is used on queens marked in years ending in 1 or 6.
- Yellow paint is used for years ending in 2 or 7.
- Red ink is used for years ending in 3 or 8.
- Green ink is used for years ending in 4 or 9.
- Blue ink is used for years ending in 5 or 0.
Step 2. Prepare ink stocks
Bees can get agitated or hurt if you hold them too long, so prepare the ink before picking up the queen. Leave the brush wet with paint or check that the marker is working and hold one of the two in the other hand or leave them on a small table near the hive.
Step 3. Carefully pick it up by its wings or chest
Be very, very careful when picking it up, as it may thrash around and end up running out of wings or being crushed by you.
Some apiaries sell marking kits that help confine the queen to a small plastic box during the process, but this method is optional
Step 4. Hold it above the hive
If you accidentally drop it, it's best if it falls into the hive, not the grass or your overalls. In this way, hold the queen over the hive at all times while doing the job.
Step 5. Place a small dot of ink on the queen's chest
With all the lightness in the world, paint a small dot on her chest, exactly between the two front legs. Paint enough so that the mark is visible, but don't use too much paint as it can stick to the wings or legs when it dries.
Step 6. Clip the wing tips (optional)
Some beekeepers prefer to staple the queen's wings instead of marking them with paint, but doing so is optional anyway. If you want to do this, take it carefully and staple the ends of both wings with special staples that beekeepers use.
- Check the hive regularly to make sure the queen is still there.
- In addition to harvesting honey, try harvesting royal jelly. It serves as a food supplement.
- If you staple the queen with the stapler, staple only the wing tips. Clipping the wings too close to the body can make worker bees think the queen is hurt and they will kill her.
- Always wear protective gear when dealing with bees.