Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Why, and How, Does One Mark a Queen Bee?

I have finally got round to marking my new queens, Caroline and Sarah.  But you may be wondering why I do this - and how it's done?

So - why?  Well, marking a queen involves putting a little spot of paint on her thorax, and there are two reasons for doing it.  Firstly, it makes the queen easier to spot.  In Miriam's hive, where there are nearly 60,000 bees right now, if I hadn't marked Miriam with a spot of blue paint last year, then I really wouldn't be able to find her among all the other bees - it would be almost impossible!

Secondly, there is a colour scheme in use by beekeepers, and we use different colours for different years:

  • White, for years that end in 1 or 6
  • Yellow, for years that end in 2 or 7
  • Red, for years that end in 3 or 8
  • Green, for years that end in 4 or 9
  • Blue, for years that end in 5 or 0

This year, 2016, end in "6", so this year's colour is white.  So I need to put a spot of white paint on the backs of Caroline and Sarah.  So - how is it done?  Carefully!

Really, it's one of the more fiddly jobs in beekeeping, and if you get it wrong, you can kill your queen by mistake (BBC broadcaster Bill Turnbull sadly did this once).  So here, in pictures, is how it's done:

Firstly, find the queen!  Here's Sarah, before I marked her:

Then, I needed to put her in a contraption called a "queen cage", which looks like this:

The idea is to place the cage onto the comb, with the queen underneath in the middle, and the sharp prongs can be pushed into the wax, which then holds the cage (and the queen) in place.  Get it wrong (as Mr Turnbull did) and you can accidentally stick one of the prongs straight through your queen bee...

Well, fortunately, I didn't get it wrong, so here's me fixing the cage in place:

The next job is to use a paint pen (we have a handy Art Shop in Bath that sells these) and wait until the queen's thorax is underneath one of the holes in the cage.  And then, carefully dab a dot of paint onto her back:

There we go - all done!  Here's Sarah with her new dot (or smudge...!) of white paint on her back:

The procedure was exactly the same for Caroline - here's a before and after shot of her:

Now, I still haven't explained the reason for naming them Sarah and Caroline.  That will be coming in the next couple of posts...

Finally, a big thank-you to Amelia for taking the photos for this blog post (believe me, photographing bees is not easy!) - and to our cat, Patsy, who probably wanted to help, before she got distracted...:

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