Finding queens

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Finding queens

One of the most daunting tasks for beekeepers, especially new beekeepers in many parts of the world can be to find the queen especially when the colony is very large. In many beekeeping books 'recipes' for colony management start with the words 'first find the queen'. It is a time consuming activity and if the beekeeper is working with African bees (or African bees in the Americas) the normal comb by comb search for the queen is largely unworkable, disturbing the bees and inducing robbing and defensive behaviour.

Under normal circumstances it is not necessary to find the queen. As long as there are newly laid eggs in a hive the queen is almost certainly there. There is no need to see her during a normal hive inspection, although if the beekeeper is lucky enough to catch the queen at work it is always a privilege. If the beekeeper isn't sure if the queen is there this is a much more difficult circumstance. Searching for the queen is not helpful in this case because if she isn't found it will not be clear if she was there but was missed in the search or if she is truly missing. It may be clear that the queen is missing by observing the colony and the bees' behaviour. There will be no eggs, the bees will be unhappy (perhaps making a 'queenless roar' by which the workers bees somehow communicate their loss and they will be difficult if not unmanageable to handle. If no queen cells are present there is one easy test to check if the queen is present and to replace her if she is lost all in one method. This is to exchange a comb from the suspect hive with one from another hive that contains eggs. This is where the value of having standard sized top bars or frames will be noticed because it is easy. If there is no queen present the workers will quickly start building queen cells to replace the lost queen.  If the queen is still in the hive the brood will be hatched out normaly as workers, Of course, if a failed or failing queen is present in the colony the workers will not build queen cells either but this is a rare occurrence and one circumstance where the colony is best left to die out. 

Normally, the only reason to find the queen at all is if a specific method of colony management is needed which requires the queen to be found - such as queen rearing. Even under these circumstances, the most sensible choice is to find techniques and methods (such as that described in the section on dividing bees) where it is not necessary to find the queen. There are many of these methods and if you have one to share we will be interested to hear about it; if it is helpful to others it can be added to the website.

Other ingenious methods specially adapted for African bees and African circumstances can already be read about in our recommended texts  

Our top reading selection

 Ramirez, W. 1994. More on finding queens. Bees for Development Journal. No. 31.

Freitas, B. M. 1994. Finding queens quickly - the Brazilian way. Bees for Development Journal No. 30. 

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  • Language English
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  • Author Bees for Development
  • Publisher Bees for Development
  • Published Date October 2016
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