Some people love it, some people don’t think it’s necessary. Here are the ins and outs of queen marking.
ADVANTAGES of marking your queens include the very obvious one that she is a lot easier to spot. That one bee in 60,000 that you are looking for shines a little bit brighter when sporting a tasteful dressing of body paint. Another advantage is that if your sneaky hive has swarmed or superseded without your knowledge, the first you may know is when that sleeker, younger model is found swaggering around the hive naked!
DISADVANTAGES are largely limited to getting it wrong and damaging your lovely queen … or yourself …
If unsure of how to go about marking queens, practice for a start with some nice docile drones. They are expendable and can’t sting, so the risks are negligible. CRC paint marker pens (other paint marker pens are available!) are ideal, not gloopy like twink, they are fast drying and long lasting. Any smell from the marker seems to be overridden by the stronger pheromones of a mated queen. It is inadvisable to mark a virgin queen for two main reasons.
The first is that a virgin that has not yet been accepted by the hive may become stressed when marked, leaving her agitated and increasing the chance that she may be rejected by the colony.
The second reason is that when you put a nice splodge of bright paint on the thorax, you have literally just put a target on her back prior to her orientation and mating flights, thus increasing her chance of becoming a tasty snack for a passing blackbird – DOH!
Queens should be marked on their thorax, to do this you can use a queen marking cage or by holding her against the wax of the frame gently by her shoulders (because that’s a bit of bee anatomy – right?) This will require bare hands or fine gloves for her safety. If for any reason she slips away, probably best not to chase her and cause a commotion. Come back to it another day for a fresh start for both of you.
There is an international colour code for marking bees. It cycles through five colours in five years. However, if you just need her to be more visible in the hive you may choose to cycle between a couple of different colours to keep track of this year’s queens and last years’s queens. Good colours to use include greens and blues, because the are not commonly found in the hive. A queen with an orange or yellow splodge may choose to camouflage herself on a pollen frame – because they are cunning that way!