Queen Marking and Requeening

Bee Health March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

We feel that the advantages of marking the queen outweigh the disadvantages. A queen marked with bright colored paint is easier to find. You know the marked queen is one you introduced, not a supersedure of unknown quality. You also know her age. Younger queens are more prolific layers and produce more pheromone that maintains colony cohesion, thus making the colony less prone to swarming and less susceptible to stressful conditions.


How to Mark a Queen

• Practice with drones until you have confidence that you can do it without damaging the drone. You do not want to squeeze the abdomen or thorax and you do not want to drop the queen.

• Be prepared: have enamel paint and a helper’s extra pair of hands ready, if needed, to hold the frame, unscrew cap from paint bottle, etc. If alone, shake paint and unscrew cap.

Marking a queen.

• Grasp queen by the wings between forefinger and thumb of left hand so that her legs are suspended.

• Place the forefinger of the right hand (nail side down) below her legs and she will quickly rest her legs on it.

• Move the thumb of right hand on top of and trapping at least two legs (right side) with enough pressure to hold her (see photo). If you have the legs secure she will stop moving.

• Release wings with left hand.

• If alone, daub the paint onto the center of the thorax only and hold her gently for 30 seconds to one minute before putting her back on the frame from which she was taken. Insert the frame back into the colony.

• If a helper is available to daub paint, add your left thumb to trap additional legs of the queen (left side) and have the helper daub the paint on the queen’s thorax.


Why Requeen? Better Performance – Better Production Most beekeepers requeen every year to take advantage of the better egg-laying performance and productivity of the young queen. A queen may lay for several years, but 99 per cent of queens are most prolific for the first year and decline during the second year, with performance falling drastically thereafter. A colony with an older queen is more likely to swarm than one with a young queen. Colonies with more prolific, young queens are less likely to be overwhelmed by parasitic mites. An inferior queen results in an inferior colony. If you let the colony requeen itself, you may end up with an inferior queen. Smaller, less vigorous queens usually hatch out first and destroy larger queens in their queen cells before they emerge. A queen needs to mate with 12 or more drones over a one- or two-day period to accumulate the 5 million sperm she will need throughout her life. If the weather during her mating flights is cold or rainy, then drones may be scarce, resulting in less mating. This queen may run out of sperm later in the season and no longer lay worker eggs. A virgin queen may mate with drones of inferior stock, resulting in a colony with poor honey production, increased tendency to swarm or one that exhibits excessive defensive behavior. Consider requeening if the colony exhibits one or more of the following: unexplained low bee population, excessive propolis production, laying workers, defensiveness, high swarming tendency, poor honey production or excessive drone production.

When to Requeen?

A colony can be requeened at any time during the warm season, but requeening is most successful when a nectar flow is on. Routine requeening is usually done in spring or late summer. We suggest requeening early in August, but let’s examine why spring requeening is also an option.

The advantages of spring requeening:

• The old queen is easier to find due to smaller bee populations.

• Nectar/honey flows usually occur in spring. Requeening during a honey flow increases acceptance, and reduces robbing and defensiveness.

The disadvantages of spring requeening:

• Inclement spring weather in Tennessee may confine bees, causing them to eat their stores and increase chance of queen supersedure.

• Spring rains and cool temperatures may prohibit opening the colony to install a new queen.

• If swarming has begun, you can miss capped queen cells as well as virgin queens that may be present or may be returning from mating.

• Queens from queen producers may be of inferior quality due to poor weather conditions for mating in queen production areas.

The advantages of August requeening:

• Colony starts the winter with young healthy bees and a new queen.

• Colony less likely to swarm next spring with a young queen.

• Spring population should be higher with a younger queen laying more in late winter and early spring than an old queen.

• Queens are less expensive to purchase than in spring.

• There is a break in the brood cycle, which can reduce disease and pest problems.

• If this queen fails, then you still have time to try again before cool fall weather.

The disadvantages of August requeening:

• Harder to find old queen with large bee population.

• If no honey flow is on, then bees will be more defensive and prone to robbing.

• If no honey flow is on, then you need to feed all colonies in the apiary where you are requeening. If you feed only the requeened colonies, the strong colonies nearby will rob them.

• May take more time if bees start robbing the colony being requeened, because you must stop working and come back later after robbing ceases.

Queen Introduction – Direct or Indirect?

Although many procedures have been described about how to install a queen, they can be classified as either direct or indirect.

With direct methods the queen is released directly into the colony, usually in combination with smoke, scented sugar syrup or honey. The new queen and the colony to receive the queen are both treated with smoke, scented sugar syrup or honey to mask any difference in odor between her and the colony. Indirect methods of queen introduction using shipping cages are more preferred by most beekeepers. Some beekeepers use push-in cages and others use a division screen method.

Benton cage and JZ BZ cage.

Many queen producers still ship their queens to beekeepers in the wooden “Benton cage.” This cage has three circular cavities covered by screen, openings on either end that are plugged by corks. The cavity on one end of the cage is filled with sugar candy (fondant, a mixture of powdered sugar and water in a doughlike consistency). The plastic “JZ BZ” queen cage is preferred by some queen package producers. The new laying queen is normally shipped with six attendant bees inside the cage to take care of her. When you receive the queens in the mail, inspect them to make sure they are alive. Add a couple drops of water to each cage on the screen, away from the candy end, to let the bees get water. New research suggests that the attendants should be removed before introducing the queen because they interfere with acceptance. One way to safely remove attendants is to do it in a closed room with a window. You can wrap the cage except for the corked end without candy with a cloth, then remove the cork, making this opening the only place where light can enter. The workers and sometimes the queen will be attracted to light and come out. The quickest method is to turn off room lights, remove the screen and let all bees y to the “lighted” window. Then replace the screen and put only the queen back inside.

Installing a Queen in a Shipping Cage:

• Locate the old queen and remove her from the colony. If you have difficulty finding queens, place queen excluders between supers with brood for four days before requeening. This will confine the queen to one box. While searching for the queen, search also for eggs. The queen will be in the box where you find eggs, because eggs laid before you added excluders have hatched.

Installing a queen in a shipping cage.

• Remove the cork from the candy end of the cage. One purpose of the candy is to delay immediate release of the new queen. In the two days (usually) that the workers take to eat the candy and release the queen, her odors and that of her attendants have blended in with that of the colony. A new queen and her attendants have a different odor than that of the new colony and they may be treated aggressively if they are released too soon.

• Press the side of the cage with the candy end up vertically into the middle of a frame of brood and move the adjacent frame of brood to “sandwich” the cage perpendicular, in between.

• Putting the candy end up keeps any attendant bees (if included) from blocking the hole if they should die. If the candy end were down, dead attendants could block the queen’s exit.

• Wait three days before inspecting to determine if the queen is released. If she is not out and much candy remains or it is too hard, carefully poke a small hole through the candy to speed the process.

• Wait 10 days to search for her, and more importantly, for eggs, which indicate she is laying and has been accepted into the colony.

Installing a Queen Using Press-in Cages.

wire press-in queen introduction cage.

A press-in cage is a screen box with an open side made of eight-mesh (1/8- inch squares) screen, 4 inches by 4 inches, with each edge bent upward at a 90-degree angle to form a side that is 1 inch wide. The open side of the box is pressed over the queen on a capped brood frame that is about to emerge. No adult bees should be trapped under the cage with the queen. A few cells of honey should also be under the cage. New workers hatch out under the cage, take care of the queen and clean cells where she lays eggs. The cage is removed when eggs are found. During this several-day process, the queen and workers acclimate to one another and the queen is readily accepted. Caution: Make sure you put the cage over comb without holes. Workers can crawl through holes to get inside the cage before it’s time to release the queen.

Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.