Should My Queen Be Marked?
Marking the queen means placing a small color spot using some form of paint on the thorax of the queen. In a colony with thousands of bees, it makes her much easier to spot. Although some commercial beekeepers do not mark their queens, marking the queen can help make hive inspection faster and more informative for the new or novice beekeeper. Of course, it is not necessary to actually see the queen to know if she is present. Spotting eggs in cells indicates there has been a queen present in the last couple of days but it is still satisfying to actually see her. There are clues to finding the queen in a hive with a lot of bees. But it can sometimes be difficult even for the most experienced beekeeper to find the elusive and most essential lady.
Seeing the queen can tell you several things about the status of the hive. If your queen is marked and you see her, you know it is the original queen. But if you had a marked queen and you spot an unmarked queen, there are a couple things you can deduce. If it has been a week or less since the last hive inspection and there are eggs, chances are the bees have cleaned off the mark. However, if there are no eggs and larvae and you see an unmarked queen, it is probable the old queen has been superseded. It could also mean the colony has replaced the marked queen that either died or for some reason has left the hive. It may also be an indication the hive has swarmed. On rare occasions you could see both a marked and an unmarked queen. That likely means the colony is preparing to eliminate the older queen.
Sometimes even a marked queen is difficult to find. If you see eggs you are still okay but do not wait too long before doing another inspection. If you do not see eggs or young larvae, you must determine if there is a queen in the hive. The colony will not survive without a queen. If you do not see a queen, you will need to secure a replacement as soon as possible. Either a mated queen, a virgin queen or a queen cell.
In addition to determining the presence of the queen, the mark can also tell you the age of the queen. There is an international color code for marking queens. The easy way to remember the code is the phrase “Will You Raise Great Bees”. White – Yellow – Red – Green – Blue. Since queens do not live more than 5 years, the code is on a 5 year rotation. For years ending in 1 or 6 the color is white. 2 or 7 yellow. 3 or 8 red. 4 or 9 green and 5 or 0 the color is blue. For 2021 the color is white. So, if the queen in your hive is green in 2021, you know the queen is two years old. If your colony is slowing down, it could be the result of an aging queen.
What if you see a swarm in your yard with a marked queen? It could mean the swarm is from one of your hives. You should check your hives to see if and which one may have swarmed. The swarm could mean you need to take some action with the hive, but that is for another discussion.
There is one other type of queen marking. If you purchase an instrumentally inseminated queen you will almost always see a mark with a number. A small color disc with the number is glued on the queen’s thorax. This is done by the breeder to be able to track the breeding and the genetics of the queen and the donor drones.
Marking the queen is not difficult but must be done correctly. It is critical the mark be on the queen’s thorax. Putting the mark on the head or abdomen could trigger the colony to feel the queen is damaged and replace her. The best way to learn is to practice on drones. The process can be covered in another article and there are good You Tube videos demonstrating several different ways to mark a queen. If you are purchasing bees, you can request that your supplier mark the queen for you. There is generally a small charge, but it is well worth it.