Monday, May 31, 2010

Marking Queen Bees

We can evaluate the quality of a queen honey bee by observing the colony over time. By simply observing the colony for several traits we can learn much about the queen. However, it is important to know if we are continually observing the same queen rather than another one that has superseded the original queen. A queen bee can live for several years, but some colonies replace their queen quite frequently. To keep track of the particular queen in a hive it is convenient to paint a colored marking on her thorax. If the queen is found again, her colored marking will identify her. If a queen is found without a marking, it can be assumed that this is a new queen that the colony has produced. A simple color code rotates every five years and indicates the queen’s age. This past year I found my longest-lived queen; she was four years old. I was delighted to find a queen that had survived for so long. It was especially useful to propagate her genes by grafting her larvae and allowing her drones to mate with other queens. Increasing queen bee longevity is one of the goals of Peace Bee Farm’s queen raising program.

In today’s photo Mary Phillips is marking a queen bee in the queen mating bee yard using a plastic tube covered with a plastic mesh. Mary gently holds the queen against the mesh and applies a dot of colored paint to the bee’s thorax. We mark the young queens in the mating nucleus hives after they have completed their mating flights and have begun to lay eggs. We don’t handle the queens until they are laying eggs, because they occasionally fly away. Once the queen bees are laying eggs, they are ready for the beekeeper to begin evaluating their performance. If they survive through the next winter, they may be selected to produce new queens.

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