My first year, I looked and looked, but couldn't find a queen to save my life. I even photographed each bar during inspections so that I could search later on the computer. No luck. However, each year since, I've gotten better and better at it. I'm still no expert, but I can now almost always find queens -- even in a hive chockful of bees. The lighter ones are especially easy to spot. Dark queens are still more elusive, but I'm getting better with those, too.
This past weekend, Aaron Morris from Double A's Bees in NY gave a talk on making nucs at our local bee club. One of the things he discussed was how to spot the queen. Basically, he said to forget the whole thing about looking for a retinue surrounding a queen. In real life, you just don't usually get a textbook photo because bees don't read the books. My experience has proven him right about this. My queens are usually scurrying around the edge of the comb to duck out of sight. Or I see bees that look like they could be a retinue, but then... no, they're not.
|Dang, I've never seen this!|
Instead, Aaron showed a page from Where's Waldo and recommended using those books as queen-finding practice, which seems a wildly clever idea. (BTW, I found Waldo within seconds, so apparently, finding queens also improves Waldo-spotting skills.)
My own approach is very much like Aaron's and is something that I developed based on Scientific America's tips for finding 4-leaf clovers. After reading the article (it was an article then, not a video), I actually found a 4-leaf clover and figured, "Hey! Those tips should work with bees, too!"
Basically, these tips boil down to two things:
- Know where to look: The queen's job is to lay eggs, so frequently, I find queens on the bars with the youngest brood.
- Scan, don't focus: I start in the center of the comb and scan in concentric circles outward from there. I try not to focus too hard on any one area or on details. Instead, I'm just kind of looking for something that jumps out of the overall pattern. Things that would break the pattern include the queen's shape and color. Obviously, she's bigger and more pointy, but since queens are not as patterned as workers, they make bigger blocks of color. Queens move differently, too. I don't know how to describe it, but they're just not as buzzy as the other bees. To me, they seem more languid.
Are any of you really good at finding queens? Do you have any secrets to share?
P.S. -- If you're still looking for Waldo, go no further. But if you're dying to know where he is, I posted the answer below.
a little more...