Although you won’t need to find the queen during every hive inspection, it’s something you should aim to learn because you will need to find her if you want to requeen or divide a colony. Every time you’re examining your hive you should practice looking for her. Here I’ve outlined a few simple steps to help you find the queen in your hive.
Step 1: Know How To Spot The Queen
The queen bee has several physical characteristics and habits that distinguish her from the other bees in the hive. These include her:
Size and shape
The size and shape of a queen’s abdomen is probably the most obvious difference between the queen and other bees inside the hive.
She has a longer, more tapered abdomen than both worker bees and drones. This is because her abdomen houses all the eggs she will lay in her lifetime, plus the sperm needed to fertilize them.
A queen bee’s legs are also longer than usual, but her wings are short when compared to her long abdomen. This is because she only ever flies on a few rare occasions during her lifetime.
The queen’s thorax is usually black in color, round in shape, and hairless.
Your queen may or may not have been marked with a dab of color on her thorax, telling you in which year she was born. That’s helpful if your queen has been marked, but you shouldn’t just rely on the dab of paint and the associated color of her abdomen. This dot of color on her thorax may help you find her quickly, but it will most likely wear off over time.
You may think that the queen will be a certain color because her offspring are all that same color. This isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes the workers can be a similar color to the queen, but I’ve also found that sometimes the drones in the hive are a different color.
In addition, you could find there’s a new queen that has taken over from the original. So, when you are looking for this new queen you’ll need to use other ways of finding her, not just her color.
If you watch the queen closely, you’ll see she moves in a seemingly determined way across the frame. As she moves, the worker bees move aside, leaving an empty trail of comb behind her.
This movement breaks the pattern of worker bees standing close together across a frame. When the queen is stationary, worker bees make a circle around her, like flower petals. Take note of these movement patterns because they’ll be useful in finding your queen.
The main job of the queen is to lay eggs, so you’re most likely going to locate her on a frame of brood. You’re unlikely to find her on a frame that only has honey and pollen.
The brood nest, located on the central frames inside the box, would therefore be the first place you’d look for her. If you can’t find her, then look for eggs because you know she has been there very recently.
Don’t take too long looking for the queen. Use your eyes to scan across the frame and remember all the tips I’ve mentioned. The queen doesn’t like the light, so she may scamper into the darkness if you are too slow.
Step 2: Smoke And Open The Hive
Looking for the queen in your hive must be done carefully and methodically. Make sure you’re not distracted or stressed before looking in the hive, and that looking for the queen is the only task you’re going to do.
Prepare everything you need, get your protective gear on and give the hive a few puffs of cool smoke at the entrance and under the lid. Only use enough smoke to move the bees, as too much may over excite them and they’ll run around the combs, making it harder to spot the queen.
Remove the lid and lay it upside down on the ground beside you. Check first that the queen is not inside the lid. You can use the upturned lid to rest your boxes on.
The queen is most likely going to be somewhere on one of the brood frames although it’s possible, though much less likely, for her to be on a frame of honey.
I’ve had the experience of finding the queen on a honey frame once before. As a new beekeeper, I started with the brood frames, methodically looking through them without finding the queen. Because I had taken so long examining each frame carefully, the queen had scurried away onto the honey frame, where after about an hour, I finally found her.
Step 3: Search For The Queen Frame Via Frame
If your hive has a super, take it off and rest it on the lid, slightly askew. Take off the queen excluder if there is one, and put it to one side. You only need to examine the box or boxes under the excluder (because the excluder stops the queen from moving upwards).
When trying to find the queen, you need to search the brood box or boxes frame by frame. Examine each frame gently, without jarring or shaking them. Leave the frame closest to the wall, take out the one second in and look at it first.
Carefully and quickly scan both sides of the frame before placing it aside, either onto a frame holder or in an empty super. As you lift each frame out, take a look at the exposed side of the next frame in the box in case the queen has scampered onto it.
Then if you’ve looked through all the middle frames and still not seen the queen, carefully use your hive tool to separate away the wall frames to examine them. If there is a second brood box and you’ve still not found the queen, carefully inspect it using the same method.
Make sure you look for the queen on the walls of the super, the base and the bottom board as well. Check carefully around the base of the hive too, in case the queen is there.
Once you’ve found her, it’s time to reassemble the hive. Carefully return each frame to the brood box in the same position, looking quickly at each frame again if you didn’t see the queen the first time.
If you don’t find the queen during this inspection, wait a day or two before you try to look for her a second time to allow the bees in the hive to settle. You may wish to invite another beekeeper to help you look for her to help you do it.
Finding the queen is necessary when you have to requeen your hive or you need to divide the colony. It can be a bit challenging to find her at times, but if you examine each brood box methodically, patiently and carefully, you will have a better chance of success.