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How to mark a queen

Many experienced beekeepers mark a queen by holding onto her legs with one hand and quickly dabbing the paint with the other hand. It looks easy and takes only a moment. But unfortunately that method does not work for me. I like to have lots of hardware between me and her majesty—not to protect me from the bee, but to protect the bee from me. I am absolutely paranoid about injuring a queen and so I take lots of precautions to prevent that. Below is the hardware I use.

The little contraption shown below is known as a “queen catcher.” It is plastic, extremely light weight, and it has slots just wide enough for workers to pass through. You just squeeze the handle, put the catcher over the queen and surrounding workers, then allow it to close. The bottom is cut away so you won’t injure the queen’s legs, and as you lift the catcher away from the frame, the workers flow through the slots like water. You are left with just the queen. I’ve used this many times with no problem.

Plastic queen catcher.

The next item is known as a “queen marking tool.” Once you’ve captured the queen, you drop her into the plastic tube and insert the sponge-covered plunger part way. Then you hold the tube so the mesh end is up and the stick end is down—the way you would hold a popsicle. Once the queen is sitting on the sponge with her back toward the mesh cover, you slowly push the plunger until the queen is captured between mesh and sponge. Squeeze just enough to hold her still—and no more. The sponge will give and keep her from getting squished, but don’t push your luck. Just enough is enough. Now you are ready for paint.

Queen marking tool ready for queen.
Queen marking tool showing mesh top.

The next item is a “queen marking pen.” It is made with quick-drying enamel paint in an easy-to-use pen-like dispenser. Dab the proper color on the queen and let it dry for a minute or so. It is very important that paint be applied only to the top center of the thorax. Paint in any other area could injure the queen. If the exact spot is not lined up in the mesh, just lower the plunger, let her take a few steps, then try again.

Queen marking pen. Use the correct color for the year.

The final item is called a “queen muff.” This mesh muff has elastic arm holes for you and plenty of workspace inside. To use it, put everything you will need inside the muff—queen in her cage or queen catcher, marking tool, enamel pen—then slide the ends over your arms until it is tight. Once inside, if the queen should get away, she can’t go far. This is much better than having her fly into a nearby tree or get loose in your house.

Queen muff. Put all equipment inside before you start.

I’ve spent hours looking for a queen inside my house and, although I finally found her on the kitchen curtains, it wasn’t any fun. And queens can be expensive. You can buy all the listed equipment for not much more than the price of one good queen. If you are confident and dexterous enough to do without all this stuff, so much the better. But if you have your klutzy moments, it can be a wise purchase.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Phillip
Reply

If I’m ever able to spot my queens, this is what I’d do to mark them. I prefer to err on the side of caution too. I’ve seen beekeepers online pick up their queens by the wings. I’ve practised it with drones without killing them or injuring them (that’s my story, anyway), but I’d sweat buckets if I ever tried to pick up the queen with my hands. Yeah, what am I talking about? That’s something I don’t ever want to do . . . Well, maybe in a couple years. I’d have to watch someone do it a couple times first.

Rusty
Reply

I’ve even seen people pick up queens (by wings or legs) with gloves on. No way I could do that without destroying them. To me, it’s not worth the risk.

Laura
Reply

I’ve picked up queens many times without harming them, though always barehanded. I practiced with drones and then some workers, which helped a lot. Generally when I mark a queen (which I also practiced first on drones), I merely hold her body still long enough to give her a dab of paint. So far, so good.

I’m more worried about hurting them in the queen catcher and marking tube, though I suppose they’re queen-safe. I hadn’t seen a queen muff, but had been envisioning making one before I learned to hold a queen on my own. I might still make or buy one anyway.

Rusty
Reply

I guess I should practice on drones. That appears to be a popular way to learn and it seems to work.

allen baggs
Reply

This is a great site for me. This is my 4th year beekeeping. I enjoy it, a lot! There is always something new to learn.

In my opinion, I’ve been lucky and got a hold of some good bees. They are pretty much “dummy proof” and they have forgave most if not all of the mistakes I’ve made. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve killed a bunch bees! But these girls have been good to me.

With that being said, I want to expand the number of hives I have, and keep records of hives and queens. This particular article answers all my question in regards to marking queens. I have avoided marking my queens because I have big stiff fingers, from old injuries.

To whom it may concern: THANKS for putting together this site and the dedication that goes into keeping it the best learning tool I’ve had the pleasure of using for beekeeping.

Rusty
Reply

Allen,

Thanks so much for your very kind compliments!

sarnik
Reply

Hello. Thanks for your good site. I have a question.
Nail polish is suitable to mark a queen?

Rusty
Reply

Yes, you can use nail polish. But the brush that comes with it is too large. You need to cut it back to get a fine point.

MrTemple
Reply

Mrs Temple got me an intro to beekeeping course for Christmas, and now I’m hooked. Equipment is on its way and bees are just behind.

Rusty, thank you *SO* much for this site. It truly is a treasure. I’ve been absorbing so much every night since my (very high-level) class ended.

The teacher of the course (Bob Liptrop) I took is a local mead producer, and he swears by queen marking discs (example here: https://www.kelleybees.com/products/images/main/343jpg.jpeg). He said he’s tried all the gadgets and this was the one he keeps with him always.

Like you, I’m a person who has to understand to learn, and this one just makes sense. You gently lower it around the queen as she sits on the comb eventually holding her in place. The gaps in the bars allow the workers to crawl out, but the queen stays put. Ample space to work with and get your marking tool onto her.

Ever tried it? What do you think? Bob keeps his in a little tin in his pocket, so he’s always ready to mark a queen if he spots her.

Rusty
Reply

I haven’t tried the numbers discs but I will.

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