Tips for Queen Spotting

When completing a hive inspection, it’s always beneficial to take note of what you see inside and on the frames. An especially wonderful sight is witnessing your honeybee queen walking along among the workers and drones.  

Finding Your Queen Can Be Helpful

Though not entirely necessary to determine you have a healthy and successful hive, finding your queen can certainly help you better understand what’s happening within your colony.  

Seeing the queen gives you peace of mind, especially if you’re seeing the presence of all stages of brood, eggs included. Knowing that a mated, laying queen is present can help you more easily manage a wide variety of beekeeping tasks.  

For some tasks, like completing a split, re-queening, or caging a queen to create a brood break, finding the queen is necessary. Using the tips below should make it much easier, though!

Tips for Spotting Your Honeybee Queen

Though it can bring understanding and relief to the beekeeper, spotting the queen isn’t easy usually easy, unless you get lucky! She’s often moving fast to avoid the smoke from your smoker and find a safe spot to hide as you inspect the hive. 

Let’s talk about some things you can look out for that might make it easier to pick out your queen among thousands of other moving, buzzing bees.  

  • Start with the Brood Nest – As a queen is often looking for a space to lay her eggs, check frames in the brood nest first. Unless she’s fleeing smoke or activity, she’s less likely to be found in honey supers or frames on the outer edges of the hive.
  • Distinctive Features – A honeybee queen will be larger than worker bees and drones and has a much longer body and abdomen (used to help her lay eggs deep in cells). Her body and leg coloration are often more distinct and tend to differ from other bees in the hive.  
    • Though it’s not always the case, a queen’s thorax is often less fuzzy and appears more pronounced, shinier, and darker than those of worker bees. Keeping an eye out for a bee that seems to have a balder, darker thorax can help identify the queen quicker among other bees.  
  • Check for “Retinue” – Retinue refers to the circle of worker bees that can sometimes be seen surrounding the queen. These workers are her attendants, grooming the queen and taking care of her needs. Looking for this circle of workers may help you spot the queen, especially if a frame is out in the open air.  
  • Differing Movement -The queen moves a bit differently than worker bees, often in a more distinct and straighter pattern, sometimes more slowly than workers but can also be found moving quickly along frame edges.  
  • Carefully Inspect All Frames  Practice gentle and slow frame handling and hold frames over the hive in case the queen falls off a frame. Carefully inspect each side of the frame, starting with frames in the outer edges of the brood nest.  
  • Mark Your Queen Queen marking pens are a great way to make your queen easy to spot and help you keep track of what year they are hatched. A small dot of (bee-safe) paint is added to the queen’s thorax, check out the “Marking Your Queen” article in our “Learn More” section below to find out more about paint colors and the steps to take when marking a queen.  
    • Take care to ensure you do not mark a virgin queen who has just emerged and may not have taken her mating flight yet. If a pen marking makes her easier for us to spot, it makes her an even easier target for a predator outside the hive.  
    • In some cases, other bees in the hive may remove the marking pen paint by cleaning it off the queen. A lack of marking on a previously marked queen could indicate a queen supersedure.
  • Use the Grid Method – Splitting up your frame into mental grids allows you to inspect each part of the frame, one section at a time. Instead of getting overwhelmed by the number of bees on that frame, you can take it slow and make sure you’re looking in all the right places.  
  • Take Your Time & Stay Calm – It’s much easier to find one bee among tens of thousands if you remain patient and stay calm. Bees can often sense anxiety and may respond to the way you’re feeling, too. Keeping your bees and yourself calm can make it much easier to focus on the task at hand, spotting your queen!  

The final thing to keep in mind when it comes to becoming an expert queen-spotter is that practice makes perfect! Over time, you’ll witness and take note of more behaviors of your queen and other bees that make it easier to find her more quickly than you could before.

Learn More

Check out some queen-related resources and tips for spotting signs of her within your hive at the links below:  

  • Tips for Spotting Eggs – Even if you can’t find the queen within your hive, spotting eggs is a great indicator that she might still be inside. Check out our article to learn more.  
  • Marking a Queen Bee – Find out more about ways to go about marking your queen and what the colors used indicate in our article. 

Queen Related PerfectBee Store Links: 

  • Queen Marking Tube – This handy tool helps keep your queen safe while you add a spot of paint to mark her. 
  • Queen Marking Pen – Choose the color you need according to your queen’s birth year and add a spot of paint to make her easier to see. 
  • Push-In Queen Cage – Isolate your queen to keep her safe during your inspections. 
  • Queen Marker Cage – Another option for keeping your queen safe as you apply a mark to her thorax.  
  • Queen Catching Tool – Plastic – Use to keep a queen safe and separated when catching a swarm or completing in-hive maintenance. 
  • Queen Catching Tool – Stainless Steel – Another clip to catch queens & keep them safe and separated, while still allowing air and pheromones to flow through.  
  • QueenSpotting – A beautiful and fun book to help you excel at spotting your own queens! 
  • Raising Honeybee Queens – If you have an interest in learning how queens are raised or want to get into it yourself, this is a great guide for learning more about queen rearing.  

Colony Member Resources

Member-Only Lessons:

Colony members, check out these member-only Academy lessons to learn even more about the lifecycle and behaviors of a honeybee queen:  

Colony Forum Posts:

There have been some interesting tips and insights shared in the Colony Forum about finding queens and what the queen’s behavior and appearance can mean for our members’ colonies. Members, head over to the links below to read more of these queen-related threads:  

Not yet a Colony member but have an interest in joining our awesome community of beekeepers working together to learn more about beekeeping? Learn more about Colony and all of the learning resources and opportunities to connect with other beekeepers through membership here