Swarm control is one of the top reasons I mark my queens. Additionally since I sell queens, I like to assess them before they reach the customer. If those queens are marked during their assessment period they are easier to find when they are caged prior to reaching the customer.

Unless a queen is marked, there is no real way of knowing if you are dealing with your original queen from year to year or even within a year. Queens swarm, they get superseded, sometimes a mother and daughter will exist side by side, any number of events can happen in a hive and marking queens is key to keeping track of what is going on. If you are successful in managing swarms it is possible to end up with queens that are several years old.  Here’s where the International color coding system can help. If a queen is marked as follows you can determine what year she was installed.

Many beekeepers use paint pens from the bee supply catalogs or even hardware stores. I have heard of beekeepers successfully using nail polish which admittedly out of desperation I used it one evening and it was a disaster. I found it difficult to control the amount of “paint” administered to the queen. The first queen I marked I ended up with a gory mess. The bees didn’t like the smell either and ended up balling and killing her. Maybe I just don’t paint my nails enough so I am out of practice. The fact that I even own blue nail polish to begin with must have been one of my rare attempts to be trendy.  The second queen was a little cleaner, but although the paint was dry when I put her back into the hive, the bees definitely did not like the smell! Not that they particularly enjoy the smell of the paint pens either, but this was extreme. I felt sure she’d be balled as well, but she’s still alive and kicking in the hive with her very poorly made mark. I think in the future I’ll just stick with the pens.

Some beekeepers, typically in queen production operations choose the numbered disks that are typically fixed to the queen’s thorax with glue. I find these to be impractical for a small operation. They are expensive and more time consuming to install compared to a dot of paint. Plus I’ve had the disk fall off of breeder queens. The only way I was able to confirm that the breeder queen was my original queen was because her wing was clipped as well by the breeder. With paint it is true that over time the paint will wear off, but generally if you look closely at the queen there is usually a small bit of paint remaining that validates that is your original queen. You can always just refresh the mark.

I don't clip the wings of queens. Other than the "disc episode" where clipping was helpful in identification, I simply don't understand the point. You run the risk of maiming a queen when you clip her and she will still attempt to swarm on you even though she can’t fly. If you’re lucky you’ll find her on the ground with a ball of bees that attempted to swarm. Most times however we are unlucky. I find I have better success if I just try and properly manage my bees.

-Laura Urban