It was my first year beekeeping and I honestly had no idea what I was doing. So it’s not surprising that half of my bees decided they had had enough of me and were leaving the hive I had bought for them.
But I was smarter – or so I like to think. Because I caught those trouble-making bees and put them in a new home where I could keep a close watch on their sneaky behaviours. You can read about that beekeeping adventure here.
My escaped honeybees were recaptured and put into a new hive.
There was just one problem.
In the commotion of catching those rogue bees, there was a chance the Queen had died or didn’t make it back to the new home for some other reason. Without a Queen my hive was dead. The Queen is the only bee who can lay fertile eggs.
Fun fact – She is capable of producing more than 1,500 eggs a day at 30-second intervals.
Without the Queen, there was no way for my bees to make a new one in this new hive filled with empty frames.
So I had to find my Queen bee, but up until this point I had never spotted her before. Why? First of all, spotting the Queen among 40,000 other bees who look almost identical is tricky, but it’s even more difficult when you have an “unmarked Queen” (a “marked Queen” has a dab of paint on the top centre of her thorax). Without that marking it is REALLY hard for newbees like myself to find the Queen. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo” every time you open the hive.
A marked queen has a dab of paint on the top centre of her thorax. Without that marking it is REALLY hard for newbees like myself to find the Queen.
But it’s not impossible to find her.
How to find the Queen bee
That’s me carefully pulling out frames to have a look for the Queen.
Here’s how to search your frames
I always check my hives starting with the outermost frame.
After removing that very first outer frame, always check to make sure the Queen isn’t on it and then you can set it aside or place it on a hive rack (I use one like this, which is similar to the one you see me using in the above photo) Note: A hive rack isn’t necessary (you can set your frames sideways against the side of your hive instead but I personally prefer a hive rack. If you live in Canada, you can’t order it from Amazon. You’ll have to visit your local beekeeping store, which isn’t a bad thing. Support local, my friends!)By setting aside the first frame, you have more room to work so you don’t accidentally smush the Queen bee as you inspect the other frames.
As you check the other frames, replace each one back in the hive leaving a space between the ones you’ve checked and haven’t checked so the Queen can’t go where you’ve already inspected.
I was told by my mentor that my Queen would likely be in the centre of one of the centre frames that contains brood (baby bees). Spoiler alert – That is exactly where I found her.
Your Queen bee will likely be in the centre of one of the frames in the middle of your box. This is where the brood (baby bees) will be and where there is brood, there is likely a Queen nearby.
Here is a drone (male) bee hatching. Isn’t he so cute who those big eyes?
Of course, always check both sides of the frames before gently putting each one back down into the hive.
Warning – The Queen can move quickly and will often dart towards the dark side of the frame. So you’ll have to learn to do this quickly. But this can also work to your advantage.
As the Queen crawls around, the other worker bees will move out of her way. The Queen also has her own entourage of maids who feed and care for her every need. The Queen’s only job is to lay eggs.
So you may notice a circle of bees surrounding another bee. Take a closer look at that bee because you’ve probably just found your Queen.
When checking your frames, always hold them above your boxes so if the Queen falls, she doesn’t land on the ground. You want her to fall right back in the hive.
See how similar the Queen looks to all the other bees? Finding her is not an easy task for a beginner.
What does the Queen look like?
First, she is bigger or at least longer and narrower than any other bees in the hive. At first, I mistook the male bees (drones) for the Queen as they are bigger than the numerous female worker bees.
Look at the size of a drone’s (male bee) eyes. The Queen and worker bees have much smaller eyes. But the drone needs his big eyes to spot the Queen when she takes her mating flight.
But unlike the Queen, you’ll notice they have huge eyes, which cover most of their head. They use these to spot the Queen bee during her mating flight.
Also, the Queen’s abdomen (lower part of her body near the stinger) will be pointed. You may also have read that the Queen bee has legs that splay outward. Good luck noticing this trait. I certainly couldn’t, but you’ll notice it in this picture.
Notice how the Queen’s abdomen (lower part of her body near the stinger) is pointed and her legs splay outward.
Finding your Queen bee takes practice – one of the reasons new beekeepers often have to check their hives more often than an experienced beekeeper. I can’t say I’m an expert at finding her because it still takes me forever scanning my eyes back and forth in rows across each and every frame, but with a little time, I can spot her.
And yes, I still get excited and give out a nerdy beekeeper squeal each time I find her.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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