How to Mark a Queen Bee

Finding a queen in a colony is like looking for a long needle in a stack of shorter needles. It gets easier with experience, although even experienced beekeepers sometimes use a second set of eyes to find her. To make it easier on the eye, beekeepers started to mark them with color on the thorax. Not only did it make it easier to see her strolling around her kingdom, but it also made tracking her much simpler. However, marking the queen requires a delicate touch and attention to detail.

In this article, we will dive into the art of marking a queen bee, exploring the methods used by beekeepers and the importance of this skill. Whether you're an experienced beekeeper or just starting, this guide will provide valuable insights and practical tips to help you succeed.

The Importance of Marking Your Queen Bee

Marking your queen bee offers a multitude of benefits for both novice and experienced beekeepers. The process makes finding the queen within the bustling hive significantly easier, which can be crucial when inspecting the colony for potential issues or assessing overall health. By marking your queen, you can:

  1. Monitor her health and activity: A marked queen is simpler to find and observe. If you notice a change in her actions, it could signal a problem within the hive.
  2. Keep track of her age: By following the International Queen Bee Color Code, you can easily determine the age of your queen to decide when it’s time to replace her, as older queens tend to be less productive.
  3. Identify potential swarming: When a colony swarms, the current queen leaves with a chunk of the colony. Despite our best efforts to keep their instincts subdued, bees sometimes swarm despite all the safeguards implemented against them. A marked queen means that if you find a queen in the hive who isn’t marked and you already suspect swarming, this could confirm it.

Selecting the Right Marker and Color

Finding the Perfect Marker

Use non-toxic, water-based paint pens designed for marking queen bees. These pens are often quick-drying and long-lasting, making them ideal. Alternatively, some beekeepers use model paint or nail polish, ensuring the product is non-toxic and safe for the bees.

The International Queen Bee Color Code

The International Queen Bee Color Code assigns a specific color to each year, allowing beekeepers to track their queens’ ages. Adhering to this color code also benefits other beekeepers who might encounter your bees if they swarm.

The color code is as follows:

  • Blue: Years ending in 1 and 6
  • White: Years ending in 2 and 7
  • Yellow: Years ending in 3 and 8
  • Red: Years ending in 4 and 9
  • Green: Years ending in 0 and 5

Step-by-Step Guide to Marking Your Queen Bee

Preparing Your Workspace

Before you start marking, prepare a suitable workspace with all the necessary tools and materials. This includes a queen catcher, a paint pen or other marker in the appropriate color, and a clean cloth or paper towel. Preparing your workspace helps ensure a smooth and efficient process, reducing stress on you and your bees.

Locating and Catching the Queen Bee

The first step in marking your queen bee is to locate her within the hive. This can be challenging, especially in large colonies, but there are a few techniques to make it easier:

  1. Focus on the brood chamber: The queen is likely to be near the center of the brood chamber, where she lays her eggs. Look for a larger, longer bee with a more elongated abdomen than the worker bees.
  2. Observe bee behavior: Worker bees form a circle around the queen, facing her and attending to her needs. This behavior can help you identify her location within the hive.

Once you’ve found the queen, carefully use the queen catcher to secure her without harming her or any other bees. The catcher will safely hold the queen, making it easier to mark her without injury.

queen bee

Marking the Queen Bee

With the queen bee safely caught, gently hold her by her thorax (the middle part of her body) using your fingers or a specialized tool such as a queen marking tube. Be cautious not to squeeze too hard, as you don’t want to injure her. Take your paint pen or other non-toxic marker and gently apply a small dot of paint on the top of the queen’s thorax. Make sure the dot is not too large, as excessive paint can interfere with her movement or cause the worker bees to reject her.

If you’re following the International Queen Bee Color Code, use the correct color for the current year. This will help you and other beekeepers quickly identify her age in the future.

Allowing the Paint to Dry

After marking the queen, allow the paint to dry before releasing her back into the hive. Drying time may vary depending on the type of paint or marker used, so be patient and ensure the paint is completely dry before moving on. This step is crucial, as releasing the queen too early could result in paint smearing or transferring onto other bees.

Releasing the Queen Bee

Once the paint has dried, carefully release the queen back into the hive. Gently remove the queen catcher or marking tube and let her walk onto a frame or directly into the hive. Observe her to ensure she moves normally and that the other bees accept her back into the colony. If the worker bees start to clean the paint off the queen, it’s usually not a cause for concern, as they’re simply grooming her.


Marking a queen is a delicate process that requires nimble fingers and a gentle yet firm grip on a considerably small insect. If you damage her and hamper her ability to move around the hive, you’ll need to worry about requeening. That can affect the colony’s productivity. Since she’s one of a kind, you can’t practice on other queens without a certain level of risk. That’s why beekeepers practice on drones. They are closer in size to a queen and are dispensable. Once you’ve tried and successfully marked a few drones, you can graduate to queen bees.

Ensuring the Longevity of Your Mark

Although marking your queen bee is a relatively simple process, there are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of your mark:

  1. Apply paint sparingly: Using too much paint can cause it to chip or peel away. Additionally, excessive paint might lead the worker bees to reject the queen.
  2. Use a high-quality marker: Invest in a quality paint pen or marker specifically designed for queen bee marking. These products often have better adhesion and longevity compared to other markers.
  3. Check the mark periodically: When inspecting your hive, take a moment to check the queen’s mark to ensure it’s still visible and intact. If it has faded or is no longer visible, consider re-marking her to maintain the benefits of a marked queen. That said, make a note of it in your records, just in case it turns out that it’s a replaced queen.


Marking the queen bee is essential for any beekeeper, providing valuable information about the queen’s age and making monitoring her health and activity easier. By following this comprehensive guide and using the appropriate tools and techniques, you’ll be well-equipped to maintain a healthy and thriving hive. Happy beekeeping!

Please Share!


Leave a Comment