Finding the Queen

(from many years Ago August 1926)

A Trick for Beginners. Before coming to the trick, it might be well to state a few general principles helpful at finding the queen.

Two principles are outstanding: First, to have the fewest number of bees in the hive, and, second, to have an even distribution of those few bees on the combs.

The population of the hive may be the least in the early morning, when the workers have just gone to the field, but it is often too cool to open a hive then. Any time in the middle of the day, when most of the workers are out, is a good time, but one should never try it after 5 o'clock in the afternoon or at night.

The population may be further reduced by gently setting the hive aside, and on its stand placing an empty hive containing several combs to catch in-coming field bees. An even distribution on the combs is best obtained by no smoke, and by very gently taking out the combs-no matter how long it takes. If the bees ever start racing over the combs and ball up in clusters, one may as well close the hive for a while.

Now as to where to look and what to look for: Get on the trail of the queen. She will not be on a solid block of honey, nor on a solid block of brood. Search the combs for eggs-fresh eggs; that is, where there are no eggs hatching. She is more likely to be found near the bottom of the comb.

I was told to "look for a yellow streak." This is poor advice. It assumes that the queen is yellow and is running. If I had to give advice, I should say, "Look for length." The queen is the longest bee in the hive. Drones are short, stubby and fat.

I used to spread the brood. I would go around generally, putting one brood comb in the centre of the brood nest, then return the following day or the second day for another addition. One day it dawned upon me that every time I raised up this new comb, the queen was upon it.

The trick: This, then, was an easy way to find the queen. Drop a brood comb (the blacker the better) in the centre of the brood nest; return the next afternoon or the following day; take the comb out very gently, and the queen will be found on the comb.

Now, of course, there are conceivable conditions under which this would not work. The queen might be working in an upper story. She might have entirely "laid up" the comb, etc. But as long as I used the method, it worked, and I pass it on for what it is worth.

But this article does not tell how to find a virgin queen. Alas! a virgin queen is hard to find, especially if she is small and black. Like a vanishing airplane or the first star of evening, you are looking directly at her; look away, then look again, and she is gone.

There are expedients to which one may resort, if it is very necessary to find the queen at once. The bees may be driven up against a queen excluder, or smoked down over one, or they may be shaken in front of the hive after a strip of excluder has been placed over the entrance. The difficulty with the last named method is that there is always congestion of drones and field bees, and one has to wait quite a while for the situation to clear up. But it works, and it takes no time in preparation.

Finding the queen is an art. With long practice, one acquires a keen queen eye. The queen is most easily sighted on the next comb-that is, the one which has not yet been lifted. There, when she is scurrying downward away from the sunlight with wings lifted, she really looks different from the other bees. There is no mistaking this receding Zeppelin. The large abdomen is usually a shade of colour different from the workers, which assists the eye.

I would hesitate to claim that the trick here given is a new idea. I have not seen it given in my reading of bee literature during the past five or six years. The moment any modern beekeeper announces some manipulation which he believes to be new, someone rises to state that Doolittle advocated the same thing in 1887.

Too much stress cannot be laid on spoiling the operation of the trick by smoke. This manner of finding the queen might be called the sneak-upon-the-queen, or stalking method.

Some apiarists have a habit of moving fast from hive to hive, jerking up the cover, shooting under it huge blasts of smoke. This may work in taking honey, but it will not work in finding the queen. It spoils the even distribution on the combs, causes the bees to collect in clusters or to race about the walls of the hive-the very worst place to find a queen.

From the American Bee Journal August 2001

Another trick the late Ted Roberts did when he couldn't find a queen was to take a frame of brood from another hive, shake all the bees off and insert it in the middle of the brood nest of the hive where he couldn't find the queen. He closed the hive for ½ an hour and when opened again, the queen would be found on that frame. Seems the queen would detect the foreign queen pheromones on the frame and come and investigate.

Frank Lindsay