One of the most difficult tasks in beekeeping is finding the queen bee. Even for experienced beekeepers, locating a queen by simply looking for her on sight is a difficult and sometimes impossible task. That is why any advice on how to find the queen in a bee hive can be important.
In this article, we give some pointers on how to be more efficient in finding queen bees. Read on to learn them and, if you find them useful, put them into practice with your hives.
1-Finding the queen: where is she usually?
For many beekeepers, especially inexperienced ones, finding the queen can be a nightmare. The best trick to speed up the search is to mark the queens. Either because they are purchased and brought in marked, or because the beekeeper takes the trouble to mark them at some point, this is the best way to find the queens in a hive.
This is the best way to find the queen bee in a hive, and it is an activity that is done frequently and for many reasons:
- To remove a defective or too old queen.
- To make a hive orphaned to raise queens.
- To locate the queen bee to make blind or orphaned nucs.
- To isolate the queen to force the transition from brood to production.
- To mark a queen.
Each of these reasons is valid for searching for the queen, an activity that can be very tedious when you have to find her in many hives.
To be more efficient in the search, it is useful to know her habits. The queen tends to behave in a more or less predictable way, and knowing this makes it easier to find her. For example, during the brood production season it is normal for the queen to appear in a brood comb, almost always freshly laid.
Also, queens do not like large crowds of bees, so they avoid the typical piles that workers often form on comb when inspected by the beekeeper.
Finally, the queen is unlikely to be in the honeycomb.
IMPORTANT: All of this, of course, is « in theory ». Every beekeeper knows that the reality is different and that the queen does what she wants. She appears on the hive cover and in the honeycomb at one end of the hive. It is not uncommon for her to fall from the comb onto the floor while looking for her, and it is not uncommon to find her wandering around outside the hive along the walls.
However, these behaviors are not common and many experts believe they are due to poor smoke management. Many beekeepers heavily smoke the colonies before opening the hives, so that inside the hives there is a mess and the queens try to escape and end up in unusual places.
Knowing this, if you go looking for a queen, the first thing to do is to disturb the hive as little as possible before opening it. Use little smoke, open the lids carefully and try not to disturb the colony.
On the other hand, if it is done on a sunny day, the bees will be busy working in the field and will not pay much attention to the beekeeper. Also, on a sunny day, there are fewer bees inside the hive, so the search will be easier.
2 – How to find the queen on sight
Now that we know a little about the queen’s habits, let’s see how to locate her by sight. That is, look at the frames one by one until you find her.
If we have been careful and the hive has not been very agitated, we will look for frames containing recent brood. Take the frames at one end and look for freshly laid or very fresh eggs.
As the frames are lifted, they are also carefully checked. Finding the queen under these conditions is an exercise in patience and visual acuity. The queen is much larger than the other workers and tends to have somewhat different colors, especially on the abdomen. In addition, she moves quickly and decisively, looking for a way to hide. It is not uncommon to see her change sides of a frame repeatedly, as if she is aware that the beekeeper is watching her.
Often, you have to start all over again and go through the frames one by one, searching and searching again, until the queen appears, who may even be on the floor or walls of the hive. It is not uncommon to have to leave it for a better opportunity.
Once found, act quickly. Move the frame away from the hive, but always work on it, because if the queen accidentally falls out of the frame, she will at least fall into the hive.
Next, the queen must be picked up carefully. You can pick it up with your fingers (better without gloves), squeezing it gently. It is best to use a tool such as a queen excluder, a queen protection tube or the queen marking tube.
3 – Pheromone trap for queen bees
Many beekeepers use actual pheromone traps to attract queens. In fact, this trick makes a lot of sense: a queen will always fight with another queen that shows up in her hive. This is why it is common to use a caged queen: she is left on the frames and, in a short time, the queen of the hive appears to deal with the intruder.
If you do not have a caged queen to use as bait, you can also use purchased pheromones. Pheromone baits are sold at beekeeping supply stores and are also used to capture swarms of bees. These baits simulate the presence of a queen and also attract the queen you are looking for.
When she shows up to fight, you must act quickly to catch her. Otherwise, she may become suspicious of the deception and be slow to reappear.
4 – Catching the queen with an excluder
Finally, there is the queen excluder. This excluder lets the workers through, but not the queens, and is used to prevent queens from climbing into the supers to lay eggs.
Knowing that the queen can’t get through the exclusion grate, we can use it to find the queen. However, this is a rather intrusive method and should only be used as a last resort, as it is very disruptive to the hive.
Basically, it involves taking the hive where the queen is and moving her out of the way. In her place, put a new hive with a clean frame. On top of this hive, place the exclusion screen.
Then carefully shake or sweep off all the frames on the excluder. The workers will move to the new hive and the queen will remain on the excluder.
Once the queen has been found and caged or isolated, the hive should be rebuilt so that the colony remains as it was.
With these tips and tricks, you now know how to find the queen in a hive. Now put them into practice and let us know in the comments if they worked for you.