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The most important bee in the colony, as without her, no new worker bees can be created, and without worker bees, none of the duties in the hive or outside the hive will be performed. The queen does not feed or clean herself.

The queen is larger than workers or drones and in some races of honey bee is easily spotted, in others she may be more similar in size to workers and drones. In all cases, a queen bees wings only reach half-way down her abdomen.

It is the workers who decide when a queen is failing and take steps to replace her by making supercedure cells. If the queen is accidentally killed or dropped by the beekeeper, workers will make emergency queen cells if young eggs are available.

Queen Lifecycle

A queen starts out as the same type of fertilised egg that creates a worker, but is fed royal jelly during the feeding phase in a specialised queen cell, instead of brood food in a worker cell.

When the new queen emerges around day 16, she will seek out other un-emerged new queens and kill them.

Queen substance or pheromone builds up over the first few days. The virgin queen will then leave the hive and search out drones around 1 mile from the hive and will mate until her Spermatheca organ is full. The queen will only leave the colony if the colony swarms due to congestion or if the hive becomes unsuitable.

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Finding the Queen

  • The queen is larger and has a different walking style and moves with purpose, charging quickly through her worker bees, often leaving a wake of empty comb behind her

  • The queen has a longer abdomen and shorter wings compared to her body

  • She is likely to be on a brood frame with open cells, and laying eggs 

  • She will be surrounded by her retinue of queen-guards and workers that are feeding and cleaning her and when she is resting will be surrounded by a circle of workers

  • Finding the queen is not essential, provided new eggs and brood in all stages are seen.

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Catching The Queen

  1. Several styles of catching cage are available, including clips, push-in cages and various tube designs. Great care is needed not to crush or pierce the queen during this process.

  2. Experienced and dextrous beekeepers can pick up the queen by gently gripping her thorax or by gently gripping the wing tips.

  3. David Cushman's website has a good discussion of the various types of cage for catching the queen and for transporting her or introducing a queen to a hive.

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Marking The Queen

  • Marking the queen makes her easier to find, especially for novices - ask for a marked queen when buying a Nuc of bees.

  • If an unmarked queen is found, the beekeeper will know that the original queen has been replaced.

  • To mark the queen, a suitable tube or cage and queen marker pen in the correct colour are needed. Wait until mating flights are complete and the queen is laying.

  • Colour depends on the last digit in a year i.e 2022 = Yellow

  • If introducing a queen, wait until the workers accept her.

  • Capture the queen in a tube or marker cage

  • Shake the pen & test on paper to see the amount that comes out

  • Take care to only mark on the thorax NOT the head, abdomen, legs or wings.

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Clipping or Not?

There is a growing movement against clipping the queen's wings.

  • Traditional beekeepers often clip one of the queen's wings after she mates, affecting the hive's inclination to swarm

  • At swarm time, a queen with clipped wings may be pushed out of the hive by worker's wanting to swarm, and fall to the ground, with workers also huddling on the ground

  • With a clipped queen, the beekeeper must be ready to perform Artificial Swarm procedures to get the original queen and the swarm into a new hive

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Re-Queening

  • To replace a queen when no suitable young eggs are available for the workers to create a new queen or when mating season is over

  • Getting a new queen from a known and trusted source is best 

  • If possible, start the introduction when foragers are out and about and the old queen, if present can be easily found

  • Decide whether to keep and reuse the queen in another colony or kill her, in any case remove the queen

  • It can take several hours for workers to realize the queen has gone for good and the hive will sound agitated at this stage

  • The old queen's scent will dissipate

  • Most introduction cages have a hole that can be plugged with candy such as mini-marshmallows

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Steps

  1. Remove cork or stopper and put candy in its place​

  2. Put the introduction cage, containing the queen in the queen-less hive so that workers have access to the screened part to feed the queen through the 'bars' while workers eat away the candy plug.

  3. A good position is between 2 brood frames, near the hive centre, with the candy plug at the bottom and the screened side towards the frames

  4. Leave alone for 3 days and return to check the queen has been released and is laying

  5. After another week, look for brood in all stages

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Laying Worker

Under normal circumstances, pheromones released by the queen prevent the development of the worker's ovaries.

A laying worker can develop when the queen departs with a swarm or is failing and not yet superseded and typically only happens after the queen has been gone for a couple of weeks.

As laying workers can only produce unfertilised eggs to make drones, the colony will die if not made queen-right.

What to Look For

  • The brood pattern will be spotty as other workers remove eggs that lack the necessary pheromone

  • Cells may contain multiple eggs (a new queen may also do this at the beginning)

  • Eggs are stuck part way into the cell instead of at the bottom as the worker has a shorter abdomen

  • Drones developing in worker cells

  • To resolve, the colony is often united with another colony

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