Finding the Queen: Part 2

From Bee Craft: November 2009

Michael Badger, MBE, MA

Here are hints on how to find the queen in your colony


Your queen may drop off the comb during an inspection, especially if she is in full lay or becomes agitated. To make sure you don’t lose her, carry out frame inspections over the open brood box. If she does fall, be careful not to stand on her while trying to find her


If, after a long search, the queen is still elusive, it frequently pays to re-assemble the hive and to look again after an hour or so. By this time the colony will have settled down and the queen recommenced her duties. It has to be said that with some bees the original smoking is still effective while others can be nasty if disturbed again within a couple of hours. Therefore opening a hive twice in fairly quick succession should only be attempted if you know the temper of the bees.

It should be remembered that a heavy queen in full lay is easily dropped off a comb onto the grass around the hive. As mentioned in October, it is good beekeeping practice to lay a sheet (if circumstances permit) in front of the hive, pinning it to the alighting board. If the hive is on a stand or stillage, lean a stick from ground level to the face of the alighting board. If she falls to the ground this arrangement gives a good chance of finding her, to place back in the hive, but be careful that you do not tread on her in the anxiety of dropping her in the first place. Very often she will see the other bees on the sheet making headway to the stick and follow them back into the hive.


The key is to handle all combs over the hive while examining them unless you are sure that you will not jerk them in the slightest. It should be emphasised again that both laying (especially newly mated) and virgin queens can fly and will do so if they are unduly chased or disturbed. This means it is possible to spend time searching for a queen who has probably taken flight.

When returning the frame with the queen to the hive, it is good beekeeping practice to ensure that it can be inserted without danger of crushing the queen or, for that matter, worker bees too. Always remove another frame, so that the frame with the queen can be placed in the space normally occupied by two. The adjacent frame should then be carefully pushed up so that if a frame has to be forced into the brood chamber, it will be the one which is far away from the queen.


There are several other ways to find queens that can be added to your armoury. Simply, it all amounts to commonsense but I have found this attribute is often lacking. Here are a few tips that might help in addition to those already mentioned.


The bees may decide to replace their queen if she is absent from the colony for a long time. These queens were the result of natural supersedure and have both been marked

1 It is often the case that under stress, the beekeeper will perspire much more readily than under normal situations. I recommend an athlete’s sweat band around the head and also on both wrists. It is helpful to have spare ones to hand and a cotton hand towel too. These are a useful adjunct anytime when dealing with bees.

2 If the first search for the queen amounts to nought, it is very often best to lift the brood box or boxes off the stand and take them to a sheltered and cool part of the apiary (if space permits). Set the boxes at a height from the ground that is easy on the back; a comfortable working height is a must. There you can examine the combs in greater comfort. In place of the removed hive, put a floor board and an empty brood chamber on the original site from which you have removed the brood boxes. This will allow the returning flying bees to return to their stand rather than become lost and try to enter a colony nearby.

3 Having removed the stock from its original site, I have found the flying bees returning from foraging are generally tired from their exertions; they seem happy to be able to rest on the face of the brood box masquerading as the original hive. This reduces the number of bees covering the brood combs that you wish to search. The foragers are, after all, the bees that are the ones who are testy and likely to become unruly and troublesome, venting their anger upon you while you are in deadly earnest trying to find ‘Queenie’.

4 Having taken the bees and their component boxes to a new position, it is good policy to wait at least half an hour for the brood boxes to be drained of the flying bees before you embark upon your search for the queen. The stock, being depopulated, is easier to search through. You can put the supers onto the empty replacement brood box on the original site and this will allow the bees in them to escape and make way for those bees returning from foraging. In some ways it allows colony life to proceed without too much upheaval.

5 If you have two brood boxes, split them as mentioned in October. Using a white sheet around the boxes is a good idea too. When looking for the queen, remember the use of smoke should be kept to the absolute minimum.

6 You should proceed to find the queen as mentioned earlier. If you still have problems finding her, I suggest that you remove the food combs (put them in a covered box to avoid robbing, especially if you are in a period of nectar dearth). Then carefully place the remaining combs in pairs. The freed up space allows you to do this. Cover over with a quilt or cover cloth. This might be the time to partake of a cuppa.

After half an hour, the comb with the queen will be covered with bees in the shape of a rugby ball. I suggest that the pair of combs is carefully lifted onto a pre-arranged, prepared sheet that is placed on a flat piece of ground so that you can part the two combs and, with a Butler cage to hand, use your fingers to move the bees out of the way. You must really concentrate while you are doing this – no idle chit chat or you will miss her. Once she is seen, carefully manipulate the Butler cage to catch her. Then close the cage and put it somewhere safe. A top pocket is idealor you can place her temporarily on the crownboard but remember, the bees will find her and try to release her.

7 The colony should be re-assembled back on its original stand. The bees on the empty brood box should be shaken to the front of the entrance and soon the colony will be back to normal.

This arrangement never seems to fail, so good luck and happy queen finding.


Not so long ago, I was in the company of a beekeeper who had forgotten that he taken the queen out of the hive. He told me that the absence of the queen from the colony caused her to be superseded soon after she was reintroduced.


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