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Due to her high importance in a honeybee colony, the queen bee is one that beekeepers keep a close eye on. In beehive inspections, a quick look at the queen bee is worth trying for. While various features characterize a queen bee, for faster and easy identification, marking her is recommended. This article looks at the significance of marking honeybee queens, and why it is done.
Types of Honeybees in a Colony
Honeybees are of three types: drones, workers and the queen bee. In a colony, there is only one queen bee. The honeybee queen is the only bee that lays eggs in the beehive. She has the role of ensuring there is brood to keep the colony populated. When she gets old or sick and needs to be replaced, worker bees raise a new queen. You can also find a new queen bee raised by a colony when swarming is about to happen.
Due to her high importance in the beehive, a queen honeybee must be present in the colony at all times. Worker bees will attempt to raise a new queen bee, called an ‘emergency queen’, if the queen bee goes missing. This is achieved by selecting recently hatched bee larvae and feeding it special feed. They also build larger queen sized cells over the previously normal sized worker bee cell. This leaves the emergency queen cells protruding vertically on the face of brood comb like a supersedure queen cell. Swarm cells to raise a new queen for swarming purposes hang on the bottom of a beehive frame in most cases.
Marking Honeybee Queens
The queen is often the mother of all bees in a honeybee colony. Marking her helps you find her with ease. Beekeepers carry out the marking of queen bees in various methods. The use of color markers is very common and even has a color code to follow (more on this below). Honeybee queen marking also aids with record keeping. The age of the queen bee and her egg laying performance are factors of interest to the beekeeper.
In hive management, you might find yourself having to mark queen bees several times. After making splits or starting a new honeybee colony, you should mark the queen bee. Swarming often sees the old queen leave the beehive. If swarming occurs and your queen bee leaves, you need to seek out the new queen bee and mark her.
You can mark the queen bee of package bees before you install the colony into a beehive. It saves you from having to open up the hive later for queen marking. You may also wait for the package bees’ colony to settle and release the queen bee from the queen cage before marking her.
How to Mark the Queen
Marking a honeybee queen is done using one of two methods. You can go for use of a harmless dye to mark her in color or use small convex discs. Using color, a code has been developed for use. It is internationally used by all beekeepers to mark their queen bees. Tiny discs with identification numbers or code can be used to mark queen bees. They are also called opalithplattchen.
- The use of the tiny convex discs is not very popular. They often slip off the queen bee and undo all the work you had done identifying and marking the queen bee.
- The discs are however great for when you have many queen bees born and used on honeybee colonies in the same year. They can be used alongside color code marking of queen bees.
Queen Marking Colors
An international color code has been developed for honeybee queen marking. The code outlines the color that should be used to mark a queen bee, based on the year you introduced her into a honeybee colony. Beekeepers can learn the code by heart or have it on paper for reference. The color code makes a jump of five years and covers 10 years. Honeybee queens live 5 to 7 years at best.
- For years ending in 1 or 6, a white color is used to mark the queen bee.
- A yellow color is used for years ending with 2 or 7.
- For years ending with 3 or 8, a red color is used.
- A green color is used for years ending with 4 or 9.
- Finally, a blue color is used for years ending with 5 or 0.
A mnemonic you can use to remember the code is, “Will You Raise Good Bees?”
Handling of the Queen Bee for Marking
The queen bee is an important member of a honeybee colony. When marking her, you should handle her carefully. Accidentally killing the queen bee is injurious to the entire colony. The process can be done with gloves or without them on. Protective hand gloves that give reasonable tactile feedback while protecting your hands from stings can be used. Nitrile gloves are great at this job. If there are many bees to contend with, you should wear a beekeeping suit. A smoker might also be necessary to calm the bees down. Go about the process quickly and return the queen to her colony.
The marking of honeybee queens is done on the upper side of the thorax. The queen is held in an upright position and a suitable marker used on her body. Pick the queen bee up by her wings or thorax. She is a large bee, so be careful not to press down on her too much. Just be firm. The selected marker should be fast drying and permanent. There are several manufacturers of queen bee marking pens that you can choose from. They make good quality pens that last for long. Their inks remain on the queen bee for the rest of her lifetime. You easily identify her by the dot of color on her upper body even when she is among many bees.
Identifying the Queen for Marking
Finding the queen bee for subsequent marking can be a daunting task. From among thousands of bees, locating that one bee is not easy. So to find the queen bee, some behavioral characteristics are used to the advantage of the beekeeper. There are also some physical characteristics of the queen bee that are used to identify her.
It is very likely that the queen bee of your colony is in the brood area. In Langstroth beehives, this is usually the lower sections of the beehive. Honeybees have a tendency to draw comb from top to bottom. They also tend to store honey in the uppermost section of a beehive. Variations are found in top bar hives and when you have the entrance at the top of the beehive. In this case, they store honey furthest from the entrance of the beehive.
A honey bee queen’s abdomen is longer that the abdomen of worker bees. It is also longer than the abdomen of male drone bees. The wings on her back cover a very small section of her distended abdomen. She may also have darker coloration than other bees in the colony.
Safety During Honeybee Queen Marking
Honeybees are defensive insects by nature. They carry stings on the rear end of their abdomens. The stinger of honeybees is found in female worker bees. It is barbed and not usually used to sting repeatedly. The queen bee is a female bee and she carries a stinger with no barbs, so she can therefore sting you repeatedly. Handling the queen without sting protection is therefore not advisable.
During marking of the queen bee, you might need to open up the hive. Finding the queen bee may take some time too. Honeybees with a hive that is being disturbed can turn aggressive towards you. You should wear a beekeeping suit for your safety. Bee stings can be painful. While not many people have lethal allergic reactions to them, they can be a bother to those who are sensitive to the venom. It is best you remain unstung than find out if you are allergic to bee stings or not.
A means of calming the bees down should be brought to the queen marking exercise. A smoker is the standard equipment to use. It releases a puff of smoke into the beehive. Smoke triggers honeybees to gorge on honey. While they are doing that, you have fewer of them paying attention to your intrusion into the beehive. If using a smoker, make sure it is ready to go if needed.
Other methods of calming bees are used by beekeepers. Spraying them with some sugar water is used by some beekeepers. It makes them get grooming themselves and each other. Cautiously use the water in a fine spray or mist. Overusing water in the beehive can leave the beehive too humid and unsuitable for use by honeybees. The sugar water also has the potential to attract bacteria and fungi into the beehive.
There are beekeepers who rear queen honeybees in colonies that are queenless. The practice follows what is called the Doolittle method of queen rearing. It is done by beekeepers aiming to sell queen honeybees or use them in their own honeybee colonies. Bringing in new queen bees into a colony improves the genetics of the colony.
A Final Word
Marking honeybee queens is an important part of apiculture. Breeding and management of a honeybee colony requires the beekeeper to be keen about the queen bee. An international code has been developed to guide the marking of queen bees. Both beginner beekeepers and experienced ones can use the code with ease. The significance of marking honeybee queens, is that it helps beekeepers find the queen bees easily and quickly. Even then, you do not have to see the queen every time you are on a beehive inspection. You can deduce her presence using other signs in the beehive, such as the presence of freshly laid eggs.
What are you thoughts on the practice of marking queen bees? Leave a comment below and let us know.