Beehive Caste System
First, it’s good to know the types of bees in a hive. There’s only one queen, but there are thousands of worker (female) and drone (male) bees. The female worker bees are infertile female bees that fulfill specific roles throughout the hive, while drones are male bees that mate with the queen to ensure population growth.
The queen is the only fertile female in the hive and can live three to five years, as opposed to worker or drone bees whose life expectancies are much shorter. Adult drone bees die minutes or hours after mating with the queen. If not successful in mating, they may live up to eight weeks if not killed by the rest of the colony.
While the lifespan of a worker bee is between five to six weeks, the queen bee outlives all of the other bees in the colony. Naturally, due to her importance and significantly longer life span, the queen bee possesses a variety of different characteristics that differentiate her from the rest.
Identifying the Queen Bee
The queen is larger than both the drone and worker bee. Her thorax is slightly larger, and her stinger has a much smoother and curved look. Similar to the drone bee, the queen does not have pollen baskets or wax glands. However, the worker bees have both. This makes it difficult for first-time or new beekeepers to distinguish between drone bees and the queen bee.
Physical Characteristics of the Queen Bee
We can distinguish between the following physical factors in a queen bee:
The queen bee is slightly larger than the drone bee. However, drone bees tend to be thicker in shape.
Queen bees are the largest in their colony and are typically longer and narrower in size. Their distinct elongated shape helps set them apart from the rest.
Queen bees can be easily recognized by their distinct abdomen — it’s usually smooth, elongated and extends beyond their folded wings. They typically have pointed abdomens, while other bees in the colony will have blunt or more rounded abdomens.
Keep in mind, if your queen is still young or hasn’t mated yet, it might be hard to tell her apart from the large drones or worker bees. This is because the queen has a shorter and thinner abdomen during this time. A mature, mated queen is easier to find because of her long and large abdomen.
Queen bees do not have barbed stingers like drone, worker or virgin queens. Instead, their stingers are smooth. This can be distinguished by gently lifting the bee by its thorax and inspecting the stinger for barbs.
The queen’s legs stand out visually. That is, her legs are turned more outward and jut out from under the body. In contrast, the drone and worker bees’ legs are located underneath their abdomens. If you were to look at them from a birds-eye view, you wouldn’t be able to see their legs.
Looking from the top of the hive is an effective way to find the queen. Just look for splayed legs!
Combined with the queen’s physical appearance, try to observe her behavior, as well as monitor the movement of all the bees. Drone and worker bees will create a path for the queen to move. Look for one bee traveling and all the other bees clustering to move out of her way.
Queens are not busy bees. Queens do nothing except lay eggs. Worker and drone bees are busy fulfilling multiple tasks; however, a queen bee has no duties. Search for a bee that isn’t too active in the hive. Don’t worry; it gets easier to identify her with practice.
Where to Look for the Queen
Most likely, the queen will be in the brood nest. Since her duty is to lay eggs, you can expect her to be inside the area that holds the baby bee cells.
Search for frames that still have eggs or larva in them. These are the youngest areas of the brood nest, and you’ll most likely find the queen there, laying eggs. Keep in mind, though; she could be anywhere in the hive.
Tip: Mark Your Queen
Even the most experienced beekeeper has trouble finding the queen within a full beehive. A good way to find her is to mark her. Some people clip one of her wings. Others use a brightly-colored marker or non-toxic acrylic paint to mark the thorax. This dot makes it easier to spot your queen, every time.
Finding the queen bee within a busy hive can be difficult. However, queens have different physical and behavioral traits that distinguish them from the thousands of worker and drone bees. Look for a larger, inactive bee! You can also simply mark your queen and make the process much easier.