Marked Queen Bees

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The Composure of A Well-Mated Queen Bee

Near the end of this season we managed to capture a close up photo of a rather calm looking queen as she paid a visit to the “tattoo parlor” for her blue mark.  There is something peaceful about the mannerisms of a well-mated queen bee.  She exudes a sense of composure, which can practically be seen in the above photo.

This sense of calm is also noticeable inside the hive as a well-mated queen bee moves purposefully and calmly across the combs, laying her eggs in a meticulous circular pattern.  The other worker bees carefully surround her, gently touching her with their antennae to connect with her queen pheromone.

In handling a queen bee, as long as she is treated with care and respect, the queen typically will take her handling in stride, hardly putting up a fuss as she is given her color mark or placed inside a temporary cage for transport.  At times when we gently grasp a mated queen bee by her thorax or wings for marking (here by her legs), it feels like she is holding hands with us!

In handling countless tens of thousands of queens, to the best of our knowledge, no queen bee has ever attempted to sting any of us at Wildflower Meadows.  Although queen bees have a stinger, and theoretically can sting humans, they almost never do.  Instead, they reserve their sting – which is as potent as any other worker bee – for their traditional enemies: other queen bees.

Marked Queen Bees

There are many reasons to mark a queen bee, but the most important reason is so that you know that the queen that you purchased is still running the show.  If the original mark is still there – good news – she hasn’t been replaced.  Many beginning beekeepers also like to order their queen bees marked so that they can find her more easily.  While true, this doesn’t always work, because sometimes a colony later replaces a queen.  Her daughter may be the beehive’s new queen.  But how are you going to find this new queen by looking for a mark that doesn’t exist?  This is why, when looking for a queen, it is always best to look for her distinctive shape rather than any mark.

Nevertheless, the best part about marked queen bees is the knowledge that this marking provides.  With the mark, you are certain the queen that you are looking at is the one that you purchased.  For better or worse, you can now judge her performance without any risk of “mistaken identity.”

You can also use the color of the mark to determine the queen’s age.  Queen breeders follow an International Color Code for determining which colors they use to mark queens in any given year.  There are five rotating colors: white for years ending in 1 or 6, yellow for years ending in 2 or 7; red for years ending in 3 or 8; green for years ending in 4 or 9; and blue for years ending in 5 or 0.  This young queen, with her pretty green mark, was born in 2014.