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It is not necessary or recommended to search for the queen every time a hive is opened. However, sometimes it is necessary to find her and anyone who has searched through 50,000 worker bees knows how difficult, timeconsuming and stressful it can sometimes be to both beekeepers and bees. Such situations are even worse when the bees are African or Africanized races which are restless and show a low threshold for stinging.
In Brazil, where Africanized honeybees have imposed the development of completely new management techniques, beekeepers have a quick and safe method to find the queen without disturbing the colony too much. The method is based on the unique odour each colony has, and the intolerance a queen shows to others.
This is how it works when a beekeeper needs to find the queen of a certain colony A. he or she goes first to another queenright colony B and removes one frame from its brood chamber. This frame is checked quickly for the presence of a queen. If she is present, the frame is carefully replaced and another frame is chosen The frame (without queen) is shaken to remove all the adult bees. It is then taken to colony A which is carefully opened using a little smoke and with as little disturbance to the bees as possible One frame is taken out of the brood chamber checked for the presence of the queen, and if she is not there, the bees shaken off.
The frame from colony B is now introduced into the central area of colony A's brood chamber replacing the frame which was removed from the hive. After that, colony A is closed and the beekeeper waits for three to five minutes before reopening it.
By this time, if the beekeeper worked well and did not disturb too much or oversmoke the colony (smoke may mask the odour in the frame introduced from colony B). the queen will have detected the odour of colony B inside her own colony and will be on the recentlyintroduced frame, searching for the presence of another queen Knowing that, the beekeeper can reopen colony A and go straight to that frame to find the queen.
This technique works well when beekeepers become practised at it. It can be used to find the queens of both colonies at the same time by introducing into colony B the frame removed from colony A and vice-versa. The method is also suitable for use in any movable-frame hive or top-bar hive. It is important that beekeepers know about the health status of the colonies involved in the manipulations to prevent the spread of diseases within their apiaries.
First published in Bees for Development Journal 30