Queen bees look different than worker bees or drones. However, she isn’t 10 times the size of the others, nor does she wear a diamond encrusted crown or carry a scepter. Therefore, many beekeepers mark their queen’s thorax with a brightly colored dot. Using a paint pen from a craft store works perfectly. Each year is represented by a different color. This allows beekeepers to know how old the queen is. For example – two years ago we marked our queens with a red dot, last year was green, and this year is blue. The color coding system is definitely helpful, but sometimes creativity gets in the way, and you end up with a blue and orange Bronco-fan-queen like the one below that my mentor Kevin marked for me!
I have phenomenal mentors from Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club, and thus have had lots of assistance from them in marking the queens in the Boise State hives. This year, with my own personal hives, I decided I needed to grow up, be a big girl, and mark my own queens. In theory, marking queens is not terribly difficult. There are three simple steps – find her, hold her still for second, and dot her back with your paint pen. The end.
Well – easier said than done. First you have to actually find her. Like I said – she isn’t gigantic and doesn’t wear a crown. So, looking for other indicators is a must. The queen’s thorax (her middle section) is dark and shiny rather than fuzzy like the other bees. Her abdomen (her hind end) is larger and much longer. She tends to be located on the middle frames near where fresh eggs have been laid. She also walks about the frame differently than the other bees. I often see the queen walking very intentionally, sometimes over the top of the workers. If you look carefully, you will see her in the center of the picture below:
I found the queen in my hive this past weekend as my father-in-law, Alton, and I were inspecting a hive. I had been wanting to mark her for several weeks, but chickened out each time. What if I missed her thorax and got paint on her eyes? What if I pinched her too tight when holding her? What if, what if, what if…. Alton, with his fatherly words of wisdom, gave me the words of encouragement I needed and offered to hold her in place as I marked her. I took a deep breath, grabbed my paint pen, and nodded my head. He held the frame on its side with the other side bar resting on the hive, and quickly but softly pinning her down with his thumb and index finger on either side of her abdomen. I carefully pressed the tip of the blue paint pen to her shiny thorax and released. We had done it! And look how beautiful she is!
We carefully placed the queen on her frame back into the hive. I high fived Alton and now enjoy his stories about how he put a queen bee in a full nelson just so I could mark her.
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!