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Helpful Tips to Find Your Queen

Tips and Tricks to Finding the Queen

By Blake Shook

Finding a queen is probably one of the most frustrating yet rewarding aspects of beekeeping! You are literally trying to spot one bee among tens of thousands of other bees, all while they move around on a frame. While there is no easy answer, I do have a handful of tricks I use based on finding thousands of queens over the past decade. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to find the queen unless you are requeening or, depending on the split method, splitting. Otherwise, all you have to do is find eggs and larvae! See “Spotting Eggs & Larvae.”

  1. Keep in mind where the queen typically is not going to be. She won’t usually be in supers full of nothing but honey or on frames full of honey. She’s going to be where there is space for her to lay eggs near or on frames of brood. I glance at frames full of honey in the brood nest but only briefly. The great majority of the time, she won’t be there.
  2. When I first open the hive, I pull one or two outside frames out, quickly look at them (they usually have honey or are empty). If I don’t see the queen on them, I stand them up on end against the hive out of my way. Next, I pull out the following frame, which is often brood or right next to a frame of brood. Before I look at the frame in my hands, I look at the frame facing me still in the hive. I often see the queen as she turns and runs down toward the bottom of the frame. It’s really easy to see her on that frame facing you still in the hive as she turns and runs away from the light.
  3. If I don’t see her on the facing frame still in the hive, I look at the frame in my hands. But I don’t hold the frame so that it directly faces me. I hold the frame at an angle so I’m glancing across its surface. I think it is easier to see the queen looking along the surface since she is a bit taller, has a long narrow abdomen, and has wings that appear shorter than those of the workers. She almost appears to waddle a bit while walking during the spring and summer while she’s full of eggs.
  4. Don’t spend more than a minute or so per frame. Much longer than that and the bees will begin to run and move off the frames, making finding the queen almost impossible.
  5. Use the minimum amount of smoke necessary. Smoke can often make the bees and queen run, which makes finding her much harder. Excess smoke or searching for several minutes may also force her to retreat to the locations she would not normally be, such as under the inner cover or onto honey frames.
  6. Be as gentle as possible. Jarring the frames makes the bees run as well.
  7. If all that fails and you must find the queen to requeen, keep reading.

Check out my #1 tip to find a queen. You'll find that, once you get the hang of it, this method works most of the time!

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you just can’t find your queen! And you aren’t alone. Many beekeepers struggle to find queens. Even experienced beekeepers can’t always find every queen in every hive. When you are trying to requeen a hive and can’t find the queen, the method below is a bit unconventional but typically effective. Remember, protective gear matters!

  1. Work fast. Smoke your hive but only a little at a time, being careful not to oversmoke and cause the bees to run.
  2. Pull each frame out and shake the bees off the frames in front of the hive. Ideally, place some sort of ramp from the ground to the entrance for the bees to climb back into the hive or set your hive directly on the ground.
  3. Place a queen excluder between the bottom board and the bottom brood nest.
  4. Put all the frames back into the hive in the same order you removed them.
  5. Wait about 30 minutes.
  6. Go back and look on the ground where you shook the bees. There will likely be a small cluster of a few dozen bees on the ground, along with the queen. If she isn’t there, look on the underside of the queen excluder. She will be trapped there along with a few drones as she tries to get back into the hive.

Part 1

    Watch me put words into action: How to find the queen when you can't find the queen!

    Part 2

    People often ask me why I wear latex gloves on camera. The simple answer is that it's easier to grab a queen with these on as opposed to the tactical gloves I like wear when I work bees.

    Often beekeepers like to mark their queens to make it easier to find them during inspections. Here’s a quick video I made showing you how I mark queens.

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