Following the article by Breno Freitas in edition 30 of Bees for Development Journal, Professor William Ramirez of Costa Rica has sent us some of his favoured techniques for finding the elusive lady.
One of a beekeeper's most time-consuming and tiresome activities is finding a queen in a hive, especially when the colony has a large population of workers or the bees are very defensive The usual way is to take out each comb one by one from the brood chamber and examine both sides until the queen is found This method disturbs the bees and induces robbing and defensive behaviour, especially in African bees.
1. Prepare an empty and clean hive body with a bottom board (box B), move the queenright hive (box A) to elsewhere in the apiary and place box B at the side of it. Smoke gently on the top-bars on one side of the hive and remove the first lateral comb, check for the queen, and move the comb to box B. Move all the combs to box B one by one, checking for the queen. If she is not found on the combs, she may be on the lateral walls of box A where the last comb was removed, or on the bottom board.
If the queen is not found in the empty box (A) or on the bottom of the hive, shake the remaining bees on to a light coloured board and search for her there. If you still cannot find the queen move the frames again from box B to A, checking for the queen.
2. If a colony is very defensive and overpopulated, remove it (A) to another place in the apiary, put a new box (B) in the original site of box A, and put in it one comb with open brood surrounded by empty drawn combs or frames with wax foundation. Wait for three days until all the field workers have moved from box A to box B. By that time colony A will have only young bees, which are unable to fly and sting, plus the queen. Smoke hive A very gently, remove the supers and search for the queen in the combs of the brood nest.
3. Take a queen cage (a Miller "pushing" cage is preferable) with an old, alive queen and put it on top of the brood of the hive with the queen being searched for. Close the hive and open it again 20 minutes later, the queen being searched for will be found trying to fight with the introduced queen.
4. Old dead queens kept in the freezer are useful. Open the hive where you need to find a queen, and place a dead queen with a pin on a top-bar in the middle of the nest chamber. Close the hive and open it again 20 minutes later; the queen being searched for will be 'fighting' with the dead queen.
First published in Bees for Development Journal 31