Trying to find the queen bee in a honey bee colony can be challenging. New beekeepers worry about being able to spot the queen. It does require some knowledge and practice. But there is a thrill to finding your own queen!
Even an experienced beekeeper may have trouble finding the queen. It isn’t necessary to find the queen every time you inspect your bee hive, but there are circumstances when a beekeeper must locate her. You might need to replace an old queen, to pinch her before combining colonies, or to mark her.
When you can find and cage the queen, you can safely inspect the rest of the hive without the worry of accidentally injuring her.
You could use a magnifying glass to help your search. My secret weapon when finding the queen is my young, eagle-eyed children! They usually manage to spot the queen before me. But it does feel like a game of “Find the Queen” after several frames with no luck.
The queen is constantly moving, laying up to 2000 eggs every day! With several frames and tens of thousands of bees, finding the queen can be like trying to play the game of Where’s Waldo.
What Does the Queen Bee Look Like?
The queen is the largest bee in the hive. However, she isn’t significantly larger. She has a long abdomen that comes to a point. She usually doesn’t have different stripes of color on her abdomen, so she could be a different color than the surrounding bees.
Her long abdomen gives the illusion that she has smaller wings. The rest of the bees have wings as long as their bodies.
The queen is the only bee with legs that are prominently splayed outward like a grasshopper. You can see the queen’s legs when she is walking. You will hardly see the other honey bees’ legs while they are on the comb.
The queen’s legs are usually orange or yellow in color. All other bees have black legs.
Drone bees (male bees) are often mistaken for the queen. Drones are larger, but the end of their abdomens are rounded. So when you think you’ve found the queen, make sure she has a pointy butt, not a round butt!
How to Identify Your Queen Bee
Focus on searching for the queen bee’s long abdomen! In a hive with a large number of bees constantly on the move, the best way to look for her is to search for her long body. This is the most noticeable feature that helps her stand out.
Honestly, I never notice the queen’s legs or wings unless I’m looking at a photo. When she is on the move, I stay laser-focused on spotting her long, narrow abdomen.
Use as little smoke as possible when searching for the queen. Too much smoke will send her into a frenzy, which will only make it more difficult to find her. You want her to continue on her quest to lay her eggs.
Beekeepers use smoke to keep bees from stinging. The guard bees release a pheromone that smells like banana oil to alert the hive to intruders. A puff of smoke at the hive entrance will mask this smell to keep the busy bees calm.
You can use a few puffs of smoke to help move the bees down when you open the cover. Keep it to a minimum. You will learn how much is just right with experience.
How to Look Through the Frames
The queen bee prefers the dark and will shy away from the light! Keep this in mind as you look through the frames.
The role of the queen bee is to lay eggs, so she will most likely be in the brood chamber. This is usually located in the center frames. The outer frames are primarily used for resources like pollen and honey. It is unlikely to find the queen on a resource frame, although not impossible.
To begin your search, remove an outer frame. Check it over for the queen, then gently set it aside, leaning it against the hive box. This will give you more room to work through the frames.
Using your hive tool, pry apart the following adjacent frames. Use the J hook to gently lift and pull out the first frame. As you are pulling up the frame, look at the adjacent frame that is still in the box. You may see the queen running down the frame as you expose her to the light.
Scan the frame in your hands beginning from the outside to the center in a circular motion. Gently turn it over and scan the other side of the frame. She may be on the side that’s in the shade.
When you turn the frame over, pay close attention to the sides. The queen may run around the side of the frame to avoid the bright light. She is a shy queen!
Gently place the frame back into the hive in its original orientation and repeat the process with the rest of the frames until you find the queen.
Tips to Quickly Find the Queen Bee
When you get into the hive, stand with the sun at your back to keep the hive in your shadow. Late morning or midday is an ideal time to get into the hives. At this time of the day, most of the foragers will be out and you will have fewer bees in the hive. Always avoid getting into your hives at dusk or later!
Always hold the frame over the hive. This is just another measure of safety just in case the queen falls off the frame. You do not want the queen to fall off into the grass and be accidentally stepped on!
If you see a frame of capped brood, then it is less likely you will find the queen. She was here to lay her eggs about a week ago!
Fresh eggs in the brood nest indicate the recent presence of the queen. She could be nearby!
It’s a good idea to inspect your hives on warm, spring days to find the queen. Before the colony begins to build up for summer, it will be easier to see her with a lesser amount of bees. Don’t wait too long, the colony can build up quickly!
The queen has a vital role. If you watch her, you will notice that she moves with purpose. The worker bees tend to move out of her way, and you will often see movement in her wake.
There are moments when she is resting, and then the worker bees will surround her in a circle.
When you spot her, success! Have someone nearby take a picture to share your victory later. Just don’t do a happy dance until you place her back into the hive.
What if I Don’t Find the Queen Bee?
You don’t need to find the queen during all of your routine inspections. If you’re struggling to find her, move on to looking for evidence of the queen. You don’t want to spend too much time disturbing the colony just to find the queen.
The presence of eggs is a good indicator. If there are new eggs in the brood frames, then you know the queen is in the hive and laying.
How does the brood pattern look? If it looks like a full pattern, then this means you have a healthy queen who is thriving. Do not stress. You can come back and find her next time.
Should I Mark the Queen?
A marked queen is easier to find. You can spot the marked queen faster and easier while following the same tips. It is a nice feature for a first year beekeeper.
Keep in mind that the colored dot can rub off. Then you may not know whether you are looking at an existing queen or a new queen.
Practice Finding the Queen
The best thing you can do is to practice finding the queen. Check the pictures below and see if you can find the queen. Scroll down to see if you are correct!
Can you find her?
Hint: What are the bees focused on?
This queen might be a little more difficult to find. Can you identify her by her abdomen? Scroll down for the answers!
Find the Bee Queen Video Challenge!
Finding the queen in pictures is a great start. In reality, you are working with a moving target. She is constantly on the move and surrounded by bees.
If you’re looking for an additional challenge and a little practice, try finding the queen in these short videos.
Do you enjoy finding the queen in these videos? Come join us on our YouTube channel for Find the Queen Fridays! We will post short videos where you can test your queen finding skills.