queen bees

Be careful! Don’t roll your queen!

Be careful not to roll your queens. Pixabay

It’s easy to roll your queen as you lift tightly packed frames from the hive, resulting in damage or death.

Queens get rolled when a beekeeper lifts a frame containing the queen or lifts a frame adjacent to the queen. In the tight space between frames, the bees become bunched together or pressed against the comb or frame. If a queen gets pinched in a tight space or within a mass of bees, round and round she goes as you lift the frame. She may be damaged or killed outright.

Full combs are trickier to handle

A rolled queen is always a sad event, but it’s worse in late fall. In the fall, the frames are heavy with honey, and a thick layer of honeycomb is often built in an arc right above the brood. Adjacent frames may grow together along the top, or nearly so. If a beekeeper is not careful, he can roll the queen against these thick layers and destroy her.

Also, by fall, burr comb and propolis build up inside the hive. It can be frustrating to loosen frames that are glued together and a beekeeper may impatiently make a wrong move. For new beekeepers, especially, this can be frustrating. Frames that were easy to manipulate when they were new, are now stuck to everything else. How annoying.

It’s hard to find a replacement queen in fall

Along with the increased likelihood of rolling a queen comes the decreased likelihood of finding a replacement. As each week gets colder, it becomes harder to find queens, more difficult to ship them, and trickier to install them. Because queens are scarce, extra care should be taken during every fall inspection.

The most common advice is also the best: remove an end frame first. The end frames are often the easiest to remove, frequently contain less honey, and are least likely to contain the queen. Once the first frame is removed, you can safely slide the next frame into the empty space and lift it without rubbing against the others.

Never assume where she isn’t

Note that I said “least likely to contain the queen,” not “never contains the queen.” Queens are free spirits, and occasionally you will find her where you least expect her. So go easy and take your time, even on the very first frame.

Rusty Burlew
Honey Bee Suite


  • When I don’t want to spot the queen — when I want to make sure she gets out of my way — I use my smoker on the first few frames I’m about to pull out. Just enough smoke to drive her down into the next super or over onto the next frame. There are no guarantees, but it’s been working well for me.

    My smoker went out last weekend while I was pulling brood from a strong colony to prop up a weak one, and sure enough I noticed the queen on one of the frames just as I was about to install it into the weak colony’s hive. I very casually walked through a field holding the frame, keeping my eye on the queen, and managed to put her back where she belonged.

    Although I avoid it most of the time, a good reliable smoker has its place.

  • Yes, I live in fear, almost every time I inspect, that the queen will be where I do not want her to be. Saw The Fat Bee Man suggest what Phillip does on a youtube video. Your blog has been a big help! Will be making my quilts this week!


  • You are so correct. The queen can and will show up where least expected. I opened a hive one day and the queens was on the underside of the inner cover. I calmly replaced the cover and gave her a minute and she went down into the colony. I will never forget that and always watch for her.

  • In the UK we use a dummy board – a frame shaped block of wood – at the end of our brood boxes. This will generally have very few bees on it, so is easy to take out and quickly check for the queen, giving space to inspect.

  • A really good reason to keep a couple of nucs on hand for that unfortunate time you roll a queen and, at some time or another, everyone does.

  • I just took possession of two first year hives (my first hives!) and will be inspecting them for the first time tomorrow. I’ve been anxious to dive in but my protective gear just arrived yesterday and I’m trying to get ready to set up feeders while I have the hives open. This is the first I’ve heard of “rolling the queens” and it will definitely make me more cautious with my actions. Thanks for helping educate a “newbee”.

  • Is it OK to put on my feeders with 50% water and 50% sugar for the winter months? We had a “soft frost” on the 15th of September. Northern Michigan has brutal winters.

    My bees are coming to my hummingbird feeder; we have a lot of goldenrod and other flowers still in bloom.


  • I’m in desperate need of some advice. I am NOT a beekeeper, just a concerned mom and disgruntled neighbor. My parents live across the lake from us. Each of us has about 15 acres of land. We have a sandy beach area on our side of the lake where our three kids like to play. Last spring my parents told a friend that he could keep some bee boxes on their property. He has about 15 hives on the other side of the lake. Now every time we go down to use our beach area there are swarms of bees all over. Yes my kids have been stung. They are little and don’t watch where they step. Please help. Thank you so much.

    • Elana,

      I think you could start by teaching your kids to watch where they step. If they are old enough to walk and play outside, they are old enough to look where they are going. With a total of 30 acres and a lake in the middle, I don’t see how much more you can isolate your kids from the real world.

      Your parents are forward thinking and kind to allow their neighbor to keep bees on their property, and I commend them for that. But honestly, with that much acreage, you have no idea where those bees are coming from. The colonies on your parents’ side of the lake obviously have an adequate water source, so I don’t think it’s that. Those bees—if they are indeed honey bees—could be from feral hives or could belong to another neighbor. Beekeeping has become very popular of late, and colonies are everywhere. They could also be wasps of some sort.

      Rather than feel desperate, teach your children about bees, or ask the beekeeper to. If they are honey bees, let the kids taste the honey and associate bees with a good thing. If you see a honey bee walking on the ground, let it crawl up on your finger and show the kids. They will think you are amazing, and the bee will soon get bored and leave.

  • My neighbor found out I had bee hives about 2 years ago; she complained my honeybees were “all over her lavender” by her front door. Turns out they were bumble bees! Lol so much for disgruntled neighbors. Another time I had some of my bees swarm (I believe it was a maiden flight not a split) up high in a neighbor’s tree; the funny part was I could hear it and none of my close neighbors that were outside could. They were loud, about 80 feet up circling up in the oak tree. So I’m walking around my yard observing quietly, freaking out, afraid my neighbor would notice! Lol But the bees flew off in about 10 minutes. No one noticed the beautiful sight.


  • I have been afflicted with multiple sclerosis since I was diagnosed at the age of 52 years. I was told by a friend that he had a friend who stung herself with honey bees and it helped to reduce the symptoms of M.S. A lady named Pat Wagner who lived in Pennsylvania wrote a book on how to do the bee stings as therapy. I read it and experienced a very slow reversal of symptoms. I am not cured but I am living a fairly normal life to date. I am now 79 years old.

    Harvey Fryberger

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