If you’re getting started as a beekeeper, you may be wondering how to identify the queen bee. At a glance, she appears to blend in with the other bees, but no other member of the hive 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 a little 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.
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 from yellow, gray, brown, to black. Experienced beekeepers don’t often use color as a way 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.
A queen bee anatomically differs from worker bees with spermatheca or female reproductive organs. These are used to store sperm during mating flights and are used 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. When she’s stationery, worker bees will surround her, forming a circle of bees that all face inwards. This creates a flower pattern that 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 creates a visual break in the hive’s pattern that allows beekeepers to find the queen.
It’s unlikely that you’ll find a queen bee on frames that are all honey. Your best bet for finding the queen is in the nursery, where her eggs have been laid. Search the brood frames for new eggs but try to work quickly. If a queen feels threatened or exposed, she’ll hide in a corner.
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 the whole frame in one go.
- Learn how to identify drones, which have large eyes and a round butt, as 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. She can vary in size and 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 useful benefits. Firstly, it makes her much easier to identify, especially as the colony grows in size. 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 year of birth.
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’re capable of moving faster over the frame and may head off on mating flights.
Is there a king bee?
Although male bees, known as drones, exist in the colony, there is no king bee in a hive.
Can a queen bee sting you?
A queen bee has a stinger and is capable of stinging humans. In practice, they very rarely sting humans and reserve their wrath for other queen bees and the developing pupae inside queen cells. Their stinger is smooth rather than barbed, so they can potentially sting on multiple occasions without dying.
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 all at once. Look for a bee that has a different color with a longer abdomen. At the same time look for gaps being 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 colony 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.