If you’re getting started as a beekeeper, you may wonder how to identify the queen bee. At a glance, she appears to blend in with the other bees, but no other hive member looks like her.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a queen bee looks like so that you can easily pick her out next time you visit a hive.
What do queen bees look like?
A queen bee looks similar to a worker bee but is usually larger. The easiest way to identify one is to look at the abdomen and legs, which are longer than the other bees in the hive. A queen bee’s wings are relatively short and don’t reach the end of the abdomen.
Need a break from reading? Listen to our summary of what queens look like and how to find them in the hive.
How to identify a queen bee
The queen bee is about ¾” (20mm) in length. While having a slightly larger appearance than worker bees, there are better ways to identify her. Instead, look for a uniform-colored abdomen and a black dot on the back of her thorax. A queen bee’s back will also stand out as it’s shiny black and bald.
A queen bee can range in color, typically yellow, gray, brown, or black. Experienced beekeepers don’t often use color to find the queen. The problem with doing this is that a colony may raise a new queen that’s a different color. It’s better to look for her stinger, which is smooth, while a worker bee’s is barbed.
Extra reading: How do honey bees sting?
A queen bee anatomically differs from worker bees with spermatheca or female reproductive organs. They store sperm during mating flights and allow her to lay fertilized eggs. Worker bees don’t have developed ovaries.
Observing the movement of a colony is a handy way to spot the queen. Worker bees may surround her when she’s stationery, forming a circle of bees facing inwards. The resulting flower pattern is easy to spot.
A queen bee will often move quickly and with purpose across the frame. If you watch closely, you’ll notice that her worker bees create a space for her to walk through. This gap creates a visual break in the hive’s pattern, allowing beekeepers to find the queen.
It’s unlikely that you’ll find a queen bee on honeycomb frames. She spends more time in the nursery, where eggs have been laid. Search the brood frames for new eggs but try to work quickly. A queen will hide in a corner if she feels threatened or exposed.
Tips for spotting the queen bee
- To increase your chances of locating the queen, don’t use too much smoke, as it’ll cause her to hide.
- Start with a brooding frame looking at one side, then flip it over and look at the other side.
- Search a frame in thirds rather than trying to scan all of it in one go.
- Learn how to identify drones with large eyes and round butts; these can easily be mistaken for the queen.
- Buy bees with a marked queen bee for easy identification.
Commonly asked questions
How big is a queen bee?
A queen bee is about ¾” long and is the largest bee in the colony. Varying in size, she may be a little longer than worker bees or up to twice their length.
Should I mark a queen bee?
Marking a queen bee isn’t essential, but it does have some practical benefits. Firstly, it makes her much easier to identify, especially as the colony grows. It also helps spot the queen when she’s trying to hide. Finally, by marking the queen with a specific color code, you’ll know her birth year.
Be sure to check out our guide on how to mark a queen bee for more info.
What does a virgin queen bee look like?
A virgin queen bee doesn’t have fully developed ovaries, so her abdomen hasn’t descended yet. They are harder to locate as they can move faster over the frame and may head off on mating flights.
Is there a king bee?
Although male drones are part of the colony, there is no king bee in the hive. Multiple drones mate with the queen, then perish once the mating process is complete. Hive decision-making is taken care of by the queen and her workers.
Can a queen bee sting you?
A queen bee has a stinger and is capable of stinging humans. Their stinger is smooth rather than barbed, so they can potentially sting on multiple occasions without dying. In practice, they rarely sting humans and reserve offensive attacks for other queen bees and the developing pupae inside queen cells.
People assume the queen bee will stand out like a sore thumb. The reality is that they’re tricky to spot, especially for a newcomer to beekeeping. The best way to find them is to incorporate a range of search tactics. Look for a bee that has a different color with an extended abdomen. At the same time, look for gaps made by the colony for one bee as it crosses the frame. You may also see a fascinating flower arrangement of bees, with the queen in the center.
Finding the queen bee isn’t usually that important. Rather than looking to find her to check her state of health, review the health of the overall colony. Are there plenty of eggs being laid? Is the hive free from pests? If everything else looks in order, you can assume the queen is fighting fit and doesn’t want you to find her.