We’ve asked beekeepers what they wished they had known when they started and one of the more common answers we heard was, “I wish I’d known how to find the queen.”
Didn’t we all?! And don’t most of us still wish that? Even after gaining experience, queens can be very elusive.
Here are five tips for finding the queen:
- Know What She Looks Like
Most references will tell you that Her Royal Majesty is the largest bee in the hive. There are some very large drones out there, although drones are usually broader, almost “beefy.” The queen is longer, especially compared to a worker bee. Study pictures of queens to aid in quickly locating her amongst thousands of very similar stinging insects.
- Know Where She Likely Is
The queen usually hangs around the brood nest, on the frames with open cells where she can lay eggs.
If you can’t find her there, know that the longer the hive is open, the more likely she is to be in some more-obscure location. She doesn’t want to be found. For example, if you’re working the top box of a two-box hive and don’t find her in the top box, the chances are greater that she’s in the bottom box, having fled there, than in the top box and you just haven’t seen her.
- Know the Bee-havior
When the queen walks through her loyal subjects, they usually quickly make way for her, and then quickly close in. So, as you search a frame, areas of more bee movement are a possible indication of where she is, or where she just was.
Small groups of worker bees on the frame are another possible indication, as they tend to hang around her. They also tend to turn toward her, attending to her every need.
If things in the hive are unsettling (and for some colonies, being inspected is very unsettling), behavior may be unpredictable. (Meaning good luck finding the queen; the usual guidelines might not apply.)
- Find Eggs or Larva
If you can’t find the queen, try and find eggs. (This is even harder to spot for those of us with more “mature” eyes.) Eggs don’t mean you actually have a queen, but indicate you had one within the last three days. Assuming she wasn’t killed, she’s probably in the hive; just keep an eye on it.
Larva is easier to spot, but again, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have a queen, but you had one eight days ago.
- Put a Kid in a Beesuit
When all else fails, an interested kid can quickly spot a queen. Something about their young eyes and how they like to make adults feel ancient.