Saturday, May 9, 2009

Queen Marking

Why mark your queens? There are a few reasons a beekeeper should keep his queens marked. The number one reason many novice beekeepers like to have their queens marked is that it makes the queens easier to find. More experienced beekeepers can usually find the queen with ease and do not need them marked to find them. The big reason to have marked queens is so you know how old the queen is. Many people like to requeen every year. Some people like to requeen every two years. It is known that young queens display higher levels of fecundity and produce more pheromone. Colonies with older queens are more likely to swarm due to the lack of queen pheromone. Young queens produce a pheromone that prohibits the worker bees from making queen cells. The older a queen becomes the less pheromone she produces. If you like catching swarms and losing your honey crop keep some old queens in your colonies.

Another reason for having marked queens is to ensure that you have the same queen that you put in your colony the last time you requeened. I don't know how many times I heard someone say they bought some Italians (for example) off of such and such queen breeder and that they were not worth having. My first question is usually, "Are your queens marked?" When they say, "No," I ask how they even know that the queens in their hives are the same ones they requeened with. The truth is they don't know. Recent studies have revealed that colonies that are requeened have high levels of supersedure and chances are that the queen in the colony that is getting trash talked probably is a totally different queen that has bred with who knows what kind of drones. This is a very good reason to keep your queens marked so that you know exactly what kind of bees you are keeping in your hives.

I've raised a few queens already this year and marked a few today. I decided to take a few pictures to demonstrate how this is done so you can keep your queens marked, if you want to. The queen pictured below is close to a month old.

When catching the queen it is extremely important not to grab her by the abdomen. The abdomen is full of eggs and is very fragile. The way to grab the queen is by the thorax. Remember that you can click on the pictures to enlarge them if you want to see the pictures in more detail.

A queen marking kit is relatively inexpensive and makes the job of marking the queen a cinch. I ordered my queen marking kit from Walter T Kelley Company. Here you can see that I am putting the queen into the tube.

Once the queen is in the tube the plunger is then inserted to enclose the queen within the tube.

The next step is to push the queen against the screen on the end of the tube. Once again this must be done very gently. Only enough force to hold the queen against the screen should be applied.

You see that the kit was used last year from the red paint. Green is the color for 2009. I use Testor's model paint. A toothpick works well. I like to use what is handiest though, and a piece of a twig is really handy thing here where I live. I apologize for the blurry picture but if you could see clearly I am using a twig to color the thorax of the queen.

After applying the paint, give the queen some space to within the tube. I usually set the marking kit on the end of a bee brush to allow her to dry before giving her back to the colony.

After a few minutes the paint is dry and the queen is ready to be returned to her colony.

The easiest way to let her into the colony is to jet let her walk out of the tube on her own. Letting her walk out on her own means there is one less chance of her being injured from a clumsy beekeeper handling her. Believe me, it is easy to injure a queen so be careful. Remember that you can click on the picture to enlarge it if you want to see the queen.

Hopefully this will encourage some of you to start marking your queens. If you order your own queens and have them shipped already marked you may think that you have nothing to worry about, but remember that when a colony swarms you will have a queen that needs to be marked. So let's just do yourself a favor and keep your queens marked so you know what kind of bees you have and how old your queens are.