How to Find Your Queen

by Julie Tennis on May 18, 2012

It’s a problem we all face when doing hive inspections – finding the queen.  Although she’s quite different-looking from the other bees in the hive, it’s easy for her to be hidden:

Can you see the queen under the worker bee?

You don’t have to actually see her to know that your hive is healthy.  There are other signs that she’s around, such as finding single eggs in the bottom of cells:

Seeing a single egg at the bottom of each cell like this indicates you've got a laying queen.

I prefer to actually see my queens, for the assurance that I haven’t inadvertently rolled or squished them as I handle the frames.  Here’s what I’m looking for:

The queen is larger than the workers; her abdomen extends well past her wing tips. The back of her thorax is also bare, not furry like the worker bees.

This week I finished a major overhaul of my apiary, switching out freshly-painted boxes and bottom boards for the old, mismatched pieces.  Out of nine established hives, I was able to find seven queens.

Some of them were easy to spot – they were surrounded by attentive worker bees:

Notice how there is a circle of worker bees all facing towards the queen? This is a dead give-away, but not a dependable way of finding the queen.

Other queens were constantly moving, making them easy to identify admist the relatively stationary workers:

A more experienced beekeeper told me that the queen will sometimes leave a trail as she wanders across the frame. I haven’t seen this effect yet, so don’t have a photograph to share with you.

Although there are tips and tricks to finding your queen, even the most experienced beekeepers miss them at times. The only sure-fire way to see them every time is to apply a drop of paint to their thorax. Since they breathe through their exoskeliton I’m not in favor of this method.

Besides, having to slow down to look for the queen is one of the things that makes beekeeping such a relaxing pasttime. It’s hard to be consumed by the antics of your crazy neighbors (or your crazy boss) when you’re focused on frame after frame of bees, searching for the elusive queen.

What’s your success rate at finding queens? What techniques do you use? (Please share your answer in the comments below.)




Brandy Williams July 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm

What a great queen picture! In my second year I’ve just started to reliably spot the queen. Like you I am looking for her attendants, or just a bigger bee than the others. I think you’re right, it just takes patience. Thanks for a great post!

David Tyler July 24, 2012 at 11:46 am

Hi The Queen has longer legs than the worker if you look down the frame as you
remove same from the brood box she often just appears ,being higher than the others.
It is worth remembering that the Queen is usually seen on frames of newly laid eggs, frames of sealed brood can usually be discounted during a search. If in real difficulty place all brood frames in pairs,the Queen will seek the dark space between the frames.After a few moments lift out the pairs of frames and open like the pages of a book you may be lucky. Regards David

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