Navigate / search

How to find your queen bee

Sometimes you need to find your queen, and sometimes you only need to know that she is alive and well. The presence of eggs means she was there sometime during the last three days. The presence of larvae (uncapped brood) means she was there between three and nine days ago, depending on how large the larvae are.

But, if you absolutely must find an unmarked queen, there’s nothing like a little practice. You’ll find that spotting her gets much easier after you’ve done it a few times and learn how to look.

Start with the outer frames

Start your search by removing one of the outer frames. Check it quickly and set it aside. This gives you some room to work, and makes it less likely that you will “roll” the queen as you inspect the rest. Although it is possible to find your queen on an end frame, it is rare. Usually she will stay close to the center on a frame that contains some brood.

So slide the frames one-by-one into the empty space until you get to the edge of the brood nest. You will recognize this area because instead of just honey, you will see some cells filled with brood, or cells that recently contained brood. You may also notice cells filled with pollen. Gently lift the first of these out and scan for the queen.

Scan for the unexpected

When I’m scanning a frame, I don’t look at individual bees but I look for something different, something that doesn’t quite fit the pattern. The queen is not only longer with a pointed abdomen, but she stands with all six legs splayed apart. She can move quickly, and the workers part the way for her as she goes. And when she stops, a group of them will stand facing her. You can often spot her by watching for this activity. She will often dart to the dark side of the frame, however, so when you turn it over look quickly before she again heads for the shadows.

Check both sides of each frame, replacing it in the hive after you’ve looked. Be sure to leave a space between the ones you’ve checked and the ones you haven’t so the queen can’t go where you already inspected. And most importantly, remember to hold the frames above the brood boxes so if the queen falls off, she will land back in the hive.

You can go through the frames a second time if you don’t succeed on the first pass, but quit and close the hive if the second try doesn’t work. After twice through, the hive needs time to calm down and restore order. You can try again on another day.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

paul
Reply

What happens if I introduce a new queen (have had old one for 3 years) without finding the old queen?

Rusty
Reply

Paul,

Most probably one queen will kill the other. An older queen will probably be killed by the younger one, but you can’t be sure. The thing you want to avoid is having them both kill each other–a situation that can happen and that will leave you queenless.

I know it is hard to find a queen, but you can do it!

Rusty

aziz
Reply

I don’t have the hive yet. How do I get a queen bee and its colony introduced into a new hive and make them stay there?

honey
Reply

Hello, I want to have a little hive so I can feed my baby with natural honey. I live in north London. Is it OK if I have one here and where can I find a small hive with a complete colony?

Rusty
Reply

Please refrain from giving very young children honey, especially infants under one year of age. Although it is rare, babies have come down with cases of botulism poisoning from honey. The spores can live in honey and the digestive tracts of very young children are not developed enough to handle them.

I live in the states. If you want to know about beekeeping in London, here is the website of the British Beekeeping Association: http://www.britishbee.org.uk. Or you might want to contact my friend Emily who lives in west London. Her blog is here: http://adventuresinbeeland.wordpress.com/. I’m sure she will help with your questions.

Phillip
Reply

I didn’t have marked queens when I started beekeeping in… 2010? Yeah, 2010. I don’t think I spotted a queen once on my own during my full first year of beekeeping. It was much easier the second year when I had marked queens, not just spotting the mark but then noticing the difference between the queens and the rest of the bees. Now I have little difficulty spotting the queen. She’s a monster like the queen in ALIENS. I don’t know how I ever missed her.

I mention this because it’s one of the few things I feel confident about. Just about everything else I think I know in beekeeping is in constant flux.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

Usually I find her quickly, but there are other times when I give up. Then I try another day, and she’s right there and I can’t figure out how I missed her. I agree, though, they’re are huge hulks.

michelle
Reply

We moved on some property recently and found bee boxes with bees in them so we are going to give it our best. I have collected from the top box before but now have opened the bottom. I know what frame the queen is in and there are larvae so know she is there and doing her job. What I need to know is can you collect the honey while there is larvae and also how do I collect it and not disturb the queen? The frames are overflowing with honey.

Eager to learn,
Michelle

Rusty
Reply

Michelle,

I would leave any honey in the lower brood box for the bees. If there are many frames, I may divide them between two brood boxes, putting them at the sides and allowing the brood nest to expand in the middle. By leaving all that honey, they will probably have enough to overwinter come fall. In the meantime, you can put honey supers above the brood boxes. Once they fill the honey supers, you can harvest from them rather than from the brood boxes. Having lots of honey in the brood box to start the season is a huge boost to your colony. It’s best to let them keep it.

jessica
Reply

Is the queen bee normally really big? Or does it look pretty similar to the rest? I am unsure if she is even there.

Rusty
Reply

Jessica,

She is usually quite a bit longer, and her legs are splayed out to the side. If you see eggs or young larvae, don’t worry about finding the queen. One day you will see her and then you will know what to look for.

Nikki
Reply

I can’t find my unmarked queen or new larvae but the colony size hasn’t decreased and there is a lot of sealed brood. The colony are making lots of new queen cells. What should I do?!!

Rusty
Reply

Nikki,

Is this a new colony or an overwintered one? And when you say queen cells, do you mean swarm cells or supersedure cells?

Nikki
Reply

Hi,
This is a new colony and they are swarm cells

Rusty
Reply

Nikki,

It certainly sounds like they are going to swarm. Why don’t you split the colony and make two out of it? If they are indeed swarm cells, the original queen is probably still there. She may not be laying and she may have been put on a diet so she can fly. If you can find her, move her into the split and let the original colony raise a new queen from the swarm cells.

Michele
Reply

Hi, Rusty–

This is my first year with my own hives. In previous years, I’ve assisted and visited friends and relatives’ hives and never had trouble spotting their queens. When I look at years of photos I’ve taken in other peoples’ hives, again, I have no trouble spotting the queens. When I look at other people’s pictures—even thumbnails of pictures—of frames, I have no trouble spotting a present queen.

But on my own frames? My own bees? I have yet to spot them. Even when I was checking the queen cage when installing the package (other colony was from a nuc) I didn’t spot the queen on installation & wasn’t bothered by it, figuring I’d spot her soon enough). The bees within (presumably a queen and a few attendants) looked pretty similar to each other and none looked like the queens I’d seen in other peoples’ hives before (my friends and relatives all had Italian queens, and those, supposedly, are what I also have).

Both queens must be present in their colonies—each inspection so far has shown plenty of eggs and larvae—so I’m not that worried. But why can’t I spot my own queens? Should I worry? Are there Italian queens that are closer in size to their worker counterparts and striped? Am i just losing my queen-spotting touch? Or do you think that it might just be hard to spot my own queens b/c I’m a newb & my brain is focused on all these other things/responsibilities, too (aka will I get better at this…)?

Thanks for your insight!

Rusty
Reply

Michele,

There are days when I can find a queen and days when I can’t. I don’t worry about: if I find eggs I’m happy. Of course, there are times when I must find the queen because I want to take her out for some reason. If I can’t find her reasonably fast, I just close up the hive and try again later. A new queen is often smaller and less obvious than one that has been laying for a while. Give her a week or two and then look again. You will find her.

Michele
Reply

That’s encouraging– thank you!

robbinrice
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I had a situation where I did a walkaway split on a large strong hive. I did it about 8 weeks ago. I put a gallon baggie of feeding syrup on top put the lid on then left it. Even though I’ve kept bees for 2-3 years I’ve never seen the queens. I work full time and do weekends with my bees if needed. Well my predicament was they seem to explode this past week or two. I opened top to put on a second box and I was annoyed because they had already drawn comb with honey, etc in it attached to the top inner cover. Ugh!!!!

With no frames to be removed, I had to use smoke & Bee Quick to remove bees. I discovered that queen had laid up in there also. A little bit of new bees also. I was disgusted with myself for letting it happen. I had to scrape it all off. I couldn’t think how to get around it. Without being able to remove an inner cover it was doomed. I’m afraid I killed queen. I thought I saw a longer abdomened bee that may have been a queen crawling out of the mess of comb & junk in the bucket. I put her at entrance hoping if it was they would clean her up. If queen was damaged or killed will they make another like they did in my previous splits? My procrastination cost the hive some honey and brood. What would you do? Requeen? Or let it bee. It’s June 29 here in Maryland. Still have 3-4 months left till cold weather.

Rusty
Reply

Robbin,

You may have not have killed the queen. Often the queen runs down into the darker areas as soon as you let in the light. In any case, a colony will always try to make a new queen and, as long as they have eggs or very young larvae, they can usually do it. Drones will be around for another couple months, so you should be in good shape, just a bit behind schedule.

robbinrice
Reply

Rusty,

Thank you for your quick reply. Ha!!! I’m happy to report the next day I went up to bee yard to feed the hives that need to draw new comb. I noticed a very tiny cluster still on the tree stump I used as a table yesterday. I bent down and looked closely, I saw a couple drones and bees in a very straight line with heads touching. I remembered I read if queen is near you will see formations of bees like this. So I puffed some smoke and my QUEENIE!!!!!! Out of tiny cluster she came! I scooped her up and put her on her hive entrance and in she went. I was thrilled the good Lord and the queenie’s attendants kept her safe even till the next day!! PS, I’m wondering if there were actually 2 queens in my hive. Because remember I put another long bodied bee in the hive day before, not knowing if it was or not. It could have been a young one. But it obviously had a long tapered body, but it was not a big long brown one like the queenie I found the next day. Or could it be the top comb and brood was a separate little hive of its own?

Robbin

Rusty
Reply

Robbin,

Colonies often have two queens for short periods. It could have been a mother/daughter. If so, the daughter might be a virgin. It’s impossible to say from here.

Leave a comment

name*

email* (not published)

website