Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

OARDC/The Ohio State University

Horticulture and Crop Science

1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691

Honey Bee Queen Management Techniques


Dr. James E. Tew

E-mail Tew.1@osu.edu

It is common procedure for beekeepers to improve their colonies by requeening colonies that are not performing well. Among the common desirable features a beekeeper looks for in the queen's offspring are: gentleness, good collectors of honey or pollen, disease and pest resistance, reduced swarming, minimal propolis use, effective pollination, or a desired body color.

Marking Queens

Since the queen is the source of all worker bees in the colony, it is important that the beekeeper be certain that the queen is the one originally placed in the colony. It is nearly impossible to determine that a specific queen has been lost if the queen has not been given a unique identifying mark.

Queen Bee Image

It is common practice to mark the queen with a small spot of paint on her back (thorax). A color code exists within the beekeeping industry to indicate the year the queen was introduced.

International Queen Marking Color Code:
Color: For Year Ending In:
White (or gray) 1 or 6
Yellow 2 or 7
Red 3 or 8
Green 4 or 9
Blue 5 or 0

Model car paint may be used to mark the queen. The identifying mark should be small, so that it does not cover any other part of the queen. A 1/16" stick, lightly dipped in paint, is a good applicator. Generally, queens are marked before being introduced, but they can; however, be marked at any time. Paint should be given ample time to dry before the queen is released into the colony. In fact, queens may be purchased already marked by the queen producer.

Some beekeepers also identify queens by clipping the tip of the tip of one forewing. If queens are replaced every two years, the beekeeper clips the left wing(s) on queens introduced in odd years, and the right on queens introduced in even years. The clipping practice may also supplement the paint spot technique as a back-up should the queen lose her paint mark. If clipped correctly, the queen will not be able to fly. However, if clipped too closely, the queen may appear damaged and be superseded.

Introducing Queen Bees

If specific requirements are not met, the resident bees within a colony may reject, even kill, a newly introduced queen. Through the years, many procedures for introducing queens have been published. Unfortunately, no specific procedure has been accepted universally as the best for all occasions. Most of the common procedures require an introductory period of about three days. During that time, the queen is confined in a cage and is fed by colony bees though the wire gauze covering the cage. The caged queen may be released by worker bees eating a candy entrance plug. This procedure allows the queen to emerge into a hive without beekeeper intrusion. However, the beekeeper can release the queen manually if desired.

Usually, younger house bees are more receptive to a new queen than are older, more established foragers. Younger bees may be separated from the older bees by turning the colony entrance to face in the opposite direction. Then a different hive with at least one frame of honey, but without bees, is placed facing the original direction. As the foragers leave the redirected parent hive, they will return to the new hive. After a day, most of the bees remaining in the repositioned original hive will be younger bees, while the temporary hive will accumulate most of the older ones. The queen can then be safely introduced into the hive of young bees. Afterward, the two colonies are united, and the queen is established.

A good technique for determining if the cage has been in the hive long enough is to observe if the outside bees are clinging tenaciously to the cage, or whether they can be brushed off easily. If they adhere to the cage, don't release the queen. If they can be brushed aside with ease, the queen can probably be safely released.

Suggestions for Introducing New Queens

  1. Be absolutely certain the colony is queenless and that any developing queen cells have been destroyed.
  2. Allow the colony to stay queenless for a day or so.
  3. If possible, allow the queen to be caged within the colony for about two days.
  4. To release the queen, place the cage between the frames with the screen side down and with the candy plug exposed near the vicinity of young bees and brood. Allow the bees approximately two days to release the queen. Remove the cage as soon as possible to prevent burr comb from being produced in the space around the queen's cage.
  5. If the queen is to be manually released, watch the surrounding bees to determine if they are clinging tightly to the cage in which the queen is confined. If they are showing aggressive behavior, do not release the queen until the surrounding workers act passively toward the caged queen.
  6. After releasing the new queen manually, watch the surrounding workers to see if they react hostilely to the new queen as she explores the comb on which she was released.
  7. If possible, don't open the hive again until the queen has had time to develop a brood nest of her own (about days).

Introducing queens into hives is never foolproof; but, generally, a good technique and careful handling will be successful. Environmental conditions, changing seasons, food availability, and beekeeper competence can affect the queen introduction's outcome.

Laying Workers

If a colony is without a queen and her pheromones for awhile, some of the workers develop the capability of laying unfertilized eggs. Since laying worker colonies are difficult to requeen, and most of the bees are old, beekeepers frequently decide to combine the colony with another queenright colony.

However, if requeening of laying worker colonies is attempted, one should follow normal requeening techniques. Adding a frame of uncapped brood along with a caged mated queen increases the chances of acceptance by the colony.

Laying workers are indistinguishable from normal workers. Laying workers fly and forage freely unlike a normal queen that spends most of her life confined to the colony. Commonly, there are several laying workers within the hive, but on occasion, a laying working may briefly overtake all her worker rivals and carry herself in a queenly manner. Such workers are called "false queens" but are still incapable of producing fertile (worker) eggs.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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