Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Marked Queens -- Yea or Nay?

This morning, a new beek asked me an interesting question. He wanted to know whether I thought it was better to get a marked or unmarked queen. I haven't ever used marked queens, so I have no personal experience with them. I don't have any strong opinions on the topic. I just use unmarked queens because marking them seems unnecessary to me. However, it's been a fun mental exercise thinking through the advantages/disadvantages of them.

Marked Queens

Positive BenefitNeutral Effect Negative Effect
Marked queens are easier to spot. New beeks love trying to find the queen, and it's really easier to find her when she's got a big bright dot on her back. Also, being able to find her easily means there is less chance of accidentally crushing her. Although seeing the queen is fun, it's not really necessary to find her. As long as you see stick eggs standing straight up in their cells, you know that she was there laying eggs within the last 24 hours.

Also, one of the main ideas behind TBH management is that one should not disturb the brood too often, so TBH beeks really shouldn't be looking for her with every inspection anyway.

You can track your queens and know how long she's been in the hive.  If you see a queen that isn't marked and don't see the marked queen, you automatically know that she's been superseded or that the colony swarmed.

In any case, whether you have marked or unmarked queens, open queen cells are kind of a dead giveaway that there has been a change in management.

The dot is tiny, so it makes no difference to the queen. The dot is tiny to us, but percentage-wise, it covers quite a large part of the queen's body. I could be anthropomorphizing, but I don't think I'd like to be covered with a blob the size of a dinner plate.

Also, I don't know enough about bee biology, but I always wonder if their exoskeletons absorb chemicals the way that our skin does. 

Marking a queen is cheap and easy to do.

(Listing this as neutral rather than positive because it still take some time and money.)
I'm sure most of the guys who mark bees have the process down pat and never touch the queen's abdomen. However, my experience with bees has been that if something can go wrong, eventually it does. Marking a queen means additional handling, which introduces an unnecessary risk of injury to her delicate body. 

Either way, I don't think it matters whether one uses marked or unmarked queens. I know people with marked queens, and they seem to be fine. Ultimately, this probably just comes down to personal preference.

What about you? Do you mark your queens, or do you prefer unmarked queens? What's your reasoning?


  1. If I were side-lining maybe I'd appreciate marked queens but as a hobbyist, I prefer unmarked. Not marking your queen encourages you to pay attention and be aware of a colony's status. That's important. And, besides, nothing beats that queen spotting feeling.

    1. All good points! Definitely agree -- when you spot an unmarked queen, it feels like you won a prize. When you spot two in the same hive, that's like hitting the jackpot!

  2. You missed one benefit of marked queens - each year has a color. So you can tell what year a queen came from based on the color (if she's properly marked).

    Also, a negative of marking a queen is that new beeks (read: me) spend extra time trying to find the queen because she is marked. If she's marked she should be easy to find. Unfortunately, not always true. Having an unmarked queen reinforces the idea that you should be looking for eggs and larva, not the queen.

    I am neutral on them right now. I started with marked queens and it helped at first. Now I don't look for the queen and I have yet to actually find an unmarked queen in my hive. Someday I hope to get better at that.

    1. I guess I was kind of thinking that tracking was the same thing as knowing which year a queen was from. Though your point about her being marked properly is on-point. I've heard of some guys marking them with the buyer's favorite color rather than the correct year.

      Your argument about spending more time looking for queen (unnecessarily) is well-taken, too. I hadn't really thought of that, but I could definitely see how that would happen. Thanks for that insight!

  3. I agree with HB for the reasons cited. I don't have marked queens and feel it's intrusive to her to mark her. I've seen queens badly marked in observation hives (a splotch rather than a dot) and feel that can't be good for her. I do wonder whether the queen I find is the one I started with sometimes. But, if someone gave me a marked queen, I wouldn't turn it down!

    1. LOL! Yep, if someone handed me a queen with all kinds of polka dots, I'd take her, too!

    2. I see a business opportunity here. I'm thinking bedazzled queens would sell like hot cakes.

    3. HB -- LOL! Every queen needs a little bling, right?


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!