beekeepers queen bees

A different kind of bug

Last Friday I needed to steal a frame of brood from a populous colony. My daughter, who has limited beekeeping experience, decided to help me and I was glad to have someone to talk to while I tried to find the queen.

The way I see it, there are two ways to take a frame of brood and bees from a busy colony: you can either find the queen and then take a different frame, or you can take a frame after checking, and checking, and checking to make sure the queen isn’t there.

This second approach never works for me. No matter how many bees are in the hive, and no matter how many times I double check, I invariably walk away from the hive with the queen dangling from the frame as I make my way through bushes and undergrowth to get to some other hive. Then, as I’m installing this frame I suddenly see her! How can this be? How long did I look for her? I could have dropped her in the grass a dozen times over.

So anyway, on this day, my daughter was helping me search. She had never done this and she kept honing in on the drones. “Is that . . . no, that’s a drone,” she’d say, interrupting her own question each time. A second later, the same thing: “Right there! . . . no, no, another drone.” I wasn’t paying much attention to her as I scanned the frames one after another.

Then suddenly I heard the excitement in her voice. “There. She’s there!” No question, no hesitation, complete conviction. I knew she saw her even though I still hadn’t. “Point!” I said. And there she was, scurrying through the mass of workers to get out of the light. Satisfied I had her, we held that frame apart while we pulled out the brood we needed, then gently put her back in the hive and closed it up.

My daughter was elated. You’d think she’d won the lottery. “Wow, she said, “she looks totally different than the drones and the other bees. She’s a different kind of bug.”

What I find so fascinating is that everyone reacts that way the first time they find a queen. It’s a beekeeping rite of passage. Finding a queen amidst tens of thousands of similar insects feels like the first time you swim across a pool, ride a bicycle, or parallel park a car. You have performed a minor miracle and now you’re off and ready for the next challenge.


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