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Queenspotting Like a Pro

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Of all the skills a beekeeper acquires, I believe queenspotting is the one I'm best at. For 3 years I gave 2 beekeeping tours a day, 5 days a week. I had to give a 1 hour talk, answer questions and find the queen all at the same time. There were only 2 times that I didn't find the queen. I'm not trying to brag. My first year keeping bees on my own, I never saw the queen after the day I released her from the cage. I don't even have the best eye sight. What worked for me is that I got a lot of queenspotting experience when I was first starting out and, I believe, that was what made the difference along with learning a bunch of tricks to spot her before she hides.

My first week working for a commercial bee farm, they were requeening their farm of 2,500 hives. That was 2,500 queens we had to find and kill. It was an awful week and I now don't requeen my own hives unless I absolutely have to. It's something I just can't get myself to do again, but enough about my traumatic queen beheading experience...

The key to getting good at spotting the queen is knowing these tricks and practicing! You can't get good at something if you only do it once a month. If you're having trouble spotting the queen or if you're a new beekeeper and have never done it before, don't be afraid to give it a try. Open the hive every 5-7 days and look for the queen every time. The early Spring, when your hive is small, is the best time to do this because the population is low and there's fewer frames for her to hide on. the only time I wouldn't recommend practicing your queenspotting skills is if it's below 60F. When it's cooler out you don't want the hive open for long. Other than that, make sure you practice!

 

 

How to Spot the Queen in Your Beehive

1) Start in the upper most box and work your way down. Queens often jump off the frame and go to a neighboring frame or to one below. Once you check the uppermost box, put it on the side and open the next box.

2) Spend 5 seconds looking for the queen on one side of the frame. Then turn the frame over and spend 5 seconds looking on the other side. This is crucial! If you're having trouble spotting your queen, it's probably because she's skittish and hides when you pull out a frame. If you spend too long looking for her on one side and she's on the other, she's hidden when you turn the frame over. Or, most often, she's on the edge of the frame so when you flip it over, she's on the opposite side already. I've seen it MANY times. They like to hang out on the side of the frame, where the wood is and run back and forth from one side to the other depending on which side is facing up towards the sun. I've spotted the queen many times and then turned around to show a student. As soon as I flip the frame around and point to her, she's on the other side! I flip the frame over, and she's back to the original side. Literally, I've flipped the frame over 4+ times before she stands still long enough for them to see her. 

3) If you see eggs on the frame, especially if they're standing straight up, spend some extra time looking at the frame. First, spend just 5 seconds looking at each side, but then look a little closer. 

4) When looking for the queen, look at the frame in thirds and let your eye gravitate towards something that looks different from the rest. Don't look at each individual bee. You'll notice a lot of drones at first, but remember that they have large eyes, are bean shaped and have a round butt. If it's early Spring, there probably aren't any drones in the hive, but in the Summer, you will have quite a few. Below is a photo of all three bees so you can observe the differences between them.

* Watch the video to try some queen spotting. I show you some frames and give you a chance to find her.

Some Extra Queenspotting Tips

  • Don't use too much smoke. This can sometimes cause the queen to hide before you even pull a frame out of the box.
  • Order a marked queen your first year or two to help you spot the queen. This means that the beekeeper will put a dot of paint on her back and it makes queenspotting a lot easier.
  • Remember what your queen looks like. Queens have different colorings and striping patterns. Once you spot the queen, take a mental picture of what she looks like. Is she all black, caramel colored, have stripes? I had a queen that was always difficult to spot until I noticed that she was almost entirely black. She's was blending in with the comb! Once I remembered this and made sure to pay close attention to the frames with dark comb on them, I found her every time. 

 

Traits of the Queen Bee

You can't spot the queen if you don't know what you're looking for! Here are some common traits of the queen bee and other things to look for:

  • The queen bee is approximately 50% larger than 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. Their job is to feed her, groom her and take out her waste.

 

Remember...

You don't have to see the queen when opening your hive. All you need to check for are signs of a healthy queen. This means that you're seeing eggs, larvae and capped brood as well as a healthy laying pattern. A healthy laying pattern is one that has every cell filled with brood. A spotty laying pattern is one that has a lot of empty cells scattered throughout a section of brood. Keep in mind that if a lot of 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 don't have great vision and are having trouble spotting eggs, don't worry! One of my students in our in-person classes was legally blind and she was great at queenspotting. She, actually, spotted the queen before the other students in the class. She said she noticed that the queen walked differently than the rest of the bees. 

Times in which you might need to find your queen is if you want to split your hive or  replace your queen. When conducting a mite test, you don't 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 and so you also need to be able to spot her. Since you don't need to spot the queen every time you inspect the hive, once you've gotten the hang of queenspotting and can find her when needed, give her a break and don't try to find her during the next handful of inspections. 

This queenspotting video is a lesson in our beekeeping class, Beekeeping for Beginners. To watch more video lessons & take the queenspotting quiz, sign up for Beekeeping for Beginners at beekeepingmadesimple.com/beginnerclass.

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