Finding the queen bee in your hives can be challenging — even for veteran beekeepers. Some queens are plump and shine like a gold beacon on the frame, while others seem to have camouflage. Not only does your ability to find her depend on her size and color, but her behavior, too. Some queens flaunt themselves in the open, while others scurry to corners and hide. So, how can you hone your ability to find the queen?
Most beekeepers can identify the queen by sight, but if you’re new, you may have trouble picking her out from the worker bees. The queen bee is larger, but more specifically, she is longer. Her lengthy abdomen extends out beyond the tip of her wings, giving her the appearance of having short wings. Her back, too, is different from that of most workers. She has a shiny, black hairless back, while workers tend to have fuzzy backs. Her legs are long and usually light in color, while worker bees tend to have dark legs.
Don’t Mark Her
Although most say that marking the queen makes her easier to find, I would argue that it handicaps a new beekeeper’s ability to spot the queen. That bright dab of paint on her back becomes a crutch. A new beekeeper may become too reliant on using that to find the queen instead of truly learning the distinguishing features of a queen bee.
When searching for the queen bee during an inspection, there are a couple of things you can do to increase your chances of finding her. First, go easy on the smoke. Too much smoke with drive your queen into hiding. Second, go straight to the brood nest. The queen is most likely to be on a frame with new eggs. Don’t waste time searching frames that are predominantly honey or capped brood.
Practice makes perfect, but when you’re a new beekeeper, your opportunities to search for queens are probably limited. You may only have one or two colonies and you don’t want to stress them by opening them too often. At most, you’ll have the chance to hunt your hive for a queen a couple of times a month.
So how can you improve your ability to find the queen without opening the hive? Play QueenSpotting! QueenSpotting is the name my Instagram followers chose for a game I have been playing through my social media accounts for the last several years. I post a photo of a lot of bees and challenge you to find the queen among them. It’s like Where’s Waldo, but bees. Not only is it fun, it’s useful. I often hear from beginning beekeepers who say the game has sharpened their ability to find the queen in real life.
So, how can you start playing? First, join my QueenSpotting email group and I will send you a new QueenSpotting photo each week. This will ensure you get consistent practice right in your inbox. Click here to find out more. Then, follow me on Instagram where I often post new challenges or try searching the hashtag #queenspotting. Finally, check out my new book which includes 48 fold-out Queenspotting images, short stories from my bee adventures and even more practical tips for how to find your queens. Click here to find out more.
Since I first began playing QueenSpotting back in 2012, the game has grown tremendously and now beekeepers are sharing their own QueenSpotting photos using the hashtag. Join in on the fun! Can you find the queen bee?