How do you find the queen bee?

The queen bee is the most important bee in the colony of social bees because it is the only one capable of laying fertilized eggs that will grow to be worker bees, which are also crucial for the colony’s survival. However, a single colony of honeybees can be from 60,000 to 80,000 bees at a time [1], so if you’re going to locate her, it will be very challenging. 

So, with this vast number of bees flying and walking around, how can we correctly identify which one of them is the queen bee?

The queen bee is unique in many ways because she is the largest bee in the hive. The first identifier is the size of her abdomen, which is the largest among all the bees in the colony. She also has shorter wings and splayed legs. Since she is expected to lay eggs all day long, she is commonly in the hive, walking around with several worker bees tending to her every need. Beekeepers also typically place paint markers on their thorax to identify what year they are born. 

Even the queen bee larva is easy to identify since they are not kept in the normal larva cell. Instead, they are placed in a special queen cell and fed royal jelly.

Now, let us learn more about the queen bee and how to find her in a sea of honeybees.

How do you find the queen bee?

bee drinking nectar from a hand

Locating the queen bee can be challenging because of the sheer number of bees flying around and walking around the hive, not to mention that there is only one queen bee among tens of thousands. So, when trying to find the queen bee, you must know the tell-tale signs.

You may choose from various identifiers, including their physical appearance, location, movement, the behavior of worker bees, and other signs of a queen bee. Don’t worry if you’re struggling to locate a queen bee in a hive because even seasoned beekeepers sometimes struggle with them.

How is the queen bee’s appearance different from the other bees?

The most obvious sign of a queen bee is her size since she is the largest bee in the hive. However, identifying them may still be challenging because they look similar to other bees. To be specific, the queen bee is large but not too wide – almost similar to the worker bee. Instead, she is longer than all the bees due to the prominence of her abdomen since her primary role in the colony is to lay eggs.

A queen bee’s abdomen is also generally more pointed compared to the more rounded shape of other bees. They also have a more splayed legs than the other bees, whose legs are commonly directly beneath them. A queen bee also has shorter wings in proportion to its long body.

Another unique quality of a queen bee, though it is less noticeable, is that its stingers are smooth compared to the barbed stingers of female worker bees. Obviously, the drone bees don’t have stingers.

Also, contrary to what others say, queen bees don’t have a unique pattern or color. They may even look similar to regular worker bees, so you will need to learn other tricks for locating the queen bee. 

Also read: Can a Queen Bee Sting? And Can bees fly in the rain?

Find the bee with several bees circling around it and other unusual movements.

beekeeper smoking out bees

Another helpful technique for locating the queen bee is looking for the bee with several worker bees circling around it. This phenomenon happens because of a chemical released by a queen bee called the queen retinue pheromone (QRP), which affects the worker bees’ behavior, making them circle around her, forming a ‘retinue.’ [2]

You may also look for unusual activities in the hive when a queen bee moves because they can go out of the queen’s way, leaving a space on the comb for her to lay eggs. This behavior can be a sign that a queen bee is nearby.

The queen bee is also moving slower than the other bees because of her heavy abdomen, so you may look for a bee constantly trying to drag its abdomen around.

What do the queen bee markings mean?

Marking a queen bee by putting a small dot of paint is common beekeeping practice. So, if you’re a new beekeeper and want to look for the queen bee, you may try your luck at looking for the bee with a paint marking on its thorax.

Professional beekeepers usually use an internationally recognized color-coding system to identify the bee’s birth year by putting a small dot of paint on the queen bee’s thorax. Each color represents the end number of a year. It goes as follows: 

  • 1 or 6: White
  • 2 or 7: Yellow
  • 3 or 8: Red
  • 4 or 9: Green
  • 5 or 0: Blue

For example, if a new queen bee hatched in 2022, you should use the color yellow to mark your new queen bee. This color-coding system is a method of knowing if you’ll need to replace your queen bee soon since most queens don’t last for more than five years. The color-coding system restarts every sixth year.

However, some beekeepers discourage this practice because the newer beekeepers become too reliant on these markings that they don’t learn to fully distinguish a queen bee by using their physical features.

To learn more about bees, you should also read Do bees sting for no reason? and Will bleach kill ground bees?

Find the bee with clipped wings?

beekeeper taking out beehive

Another common practice of traditional beekeepers, which can be used to identify a queen bee, is looking at clipped wings. Clipping a queen bee’s wings after she has mated ensures that she will not swarm and fly out of the colony. 

However, there is a growing movement from some beekeepers to avoid clipping the queen bee’s wings because it hinders their natural instinct of flying out and swarming. If this idea grows further, a clipped wing may no longer be a common identifier of a queen bee.

How is the queen bee larva different from other bees?

The queen bee is unique from the point she is laid. She is raised in a different cell, called a queen cup, built on top of the comb, oriented vertically. The queen bee larva is also fed a different food, the royal jelly, instead of the common bee bread fed to the other regular bees.

Another vital thing to know when identifying a queen bee cell is its location. The swarm cells are typically located at the brood nest’s bottom or sides. On the other hand, the supersedure cells, or emergency cells, are situated at the comb’s face instead of the comb’s sides or bottom.

Also read: What is burr comb?

Other queen bee spotting tips:

1. Don’t use too much smoke.

A bee smoker helps a beekeeper to calm the bees. However, if you’re looking for the queen bee, it may prompt the queen bee to hide further.

2. If you’re still a new beekeeper, order a marked queen bee.

Though it is generally easier for veteran beekeepers to identify a queen bee, a new beekeeper may still lack this skill. So, for the first few years of beekeeping, you may request your queen bee supplier to mark the queen bee for you, making it easier to locate.

3. Remember what your queen bee looks like.

Queen bees don’t have a particular pattern or a specific color for everyone, so it is not the best way to find it. However, you may try to take a mental picture of what your queen bee looks like for future reference.

4. Practice makes perfect.

Like many things in life, practice makes all the difference, and that is the same with queen bee spotting. You may try to open the hive every week to practice your spotting skill. Just don’t open the hive for too long because it may disturb the queen’s job.

If you‘d like to learn more about bees, I‘d recommend reading Is there a king bee? And Why don‘t bees sting beekeepers?


The queen bee is the most important bee in the colony because of its unique role of laying thousands of eggs each day. So, for a beekeeper, it is essential that you also know how to identify and locate the queen bee among thousands.

The queen bee is easily identifiable based on its larger and longer abdomen, compared to the worker bees or the drones, making her wings look shorter for her size. Her legs are also spread out and can be visible looking down. The worker bee’s behavior also changes when the queen bee is around because of the pheromones the queen releases, attracting them to circle around her. 

Aside from these natural identifiers, beekeepers can also put artificial identifiers for the queen bee to make them easier to locate, like dabbing a small piece of paint on its thorax, following the usual color-coding standard, or clipping its wings.


[1] – Queen bee. (2022, July 22). In Wikipedia.

[2] – Queen retinue pheromone. (2021, December 12). In Wikipedia.

[3] – Downs, S. (2022, May 11). 4 ways to identify a queen bee. wikiHow. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from