beekeeping equipment how to queen rearing

How to mark a queen

Many experienced beekeepers mark a queen by holding onto her legs with one hand and quickly dabbing the paint with the other hand. It looks easy and takes only a moment. But unfortunately that method does not work for me. I like to have lots of hardware between me and her majesty—not to protect me from the bee, but to protect the bee from me. I am absolutely paranoid about injuring a queen and so I take lots of precautions to prevent that. Below is the hardware I use.

The little contraption shown below is known as a “queen catcher.” It is plastic, extremely light weight, and it has slots just wide enough for workers to pass through. You just squeeze the handle, put the catcher over the queen and surrounding workers, then allow it to close. The bottom is cut away so you won’t injure the queen’s legs, and as you lift the catcher away from the frame, the workers flow through the slots like water. You are left with just the queen. I’ve used this many times with no problem.

Plastic queen catcher.

The next item is known as a “queen marking tool.” Once you’ve captured the queen, you drop her into the plastic tube and insert the sponge-covered plunger part way. Then you hold the tube so the mesh end is up and the stick end is down—the way you would hold a popsicle. Once the queen is sitting on the sponge with her back toward the mesh cover, you slowly push the plunger until the queen is captured between mesh and sponge. Squeeze just enough to hold her still—and no more. The sponge will give and keep her from getting squished, but don’t push your luck. Just enough is enough. Now you are ready for paint.

Queen marking tool ready for queen.

Queen marking tool showing mesh top.

The next item is a “queen marking pen.” It is made with quick-drying enamel paint in an easy-to-use pen-like dispenser. Dab the proper color on the queen and let it dry for a minute or so. It is very important that paint be applied only to the top center of the thorax. Paint in any other area could injure the queen. If the exact spot is not lined up in the mesh, just lower the plunger, let her take a few steps, then try again.

Queen marking pen. Use the correct color for the year.

The final item is called a “queen muff.” This mesh muff has elastic arm holes for you and plenty of workspace inside. To use it, put everything you will need inside the muff—queen in her cage or queen catcher, marking tool, enamel pen—then slide the ends over your arms until it is tight. Once inside, if the queen should get away, she can’t go far. This is much better than having her fly into a nearby tree or get loose in your house.

Queen muff. Put all equipment inside before you start.

I’ve spent hours looking for a queen inside my house and, although I finally found her on the kitchen curtains, it wasn’t any fun. And queens can be expensive. You can buy all the listed equipment for not much more than the price of one good queen. If you are confident and dexterous enough to do without all this stuff, so much the better. But if you have your klutzy moments, it can be a wise purchase.



  • If I’m ever able to spot my queens, this is what I’d do to mark them. I prefer to err on the side of caution too. I’ve seen beekeepers online pick up their queens by the wings. I’ve practised it with drones without killing them or injuring them (that’s my story, anyway), but I’d sweat buckets if I ever tried to pick up the queen with my hands. Yeah, what am I talking about? That’s something I don’t ever want to do . . . Well, maybe in a couple years. I’d have to watch someone do it a couple times first.

    • I’ve even seen people pick up queens (by wings or legs) with gloves on. No way I could do that without destroying them. To me, it’s not worth the risk.

  • I’ve picked up queens many times without harming them, though always barehanded. I practiced with drones and then some workers, which helped a lot. Generally when I mark a queen (which I also practiced first on drones), I merely hold her body still long enough to give her a dab of paint. So far, so good.

    I’m more worried about hurting them in the queen catcher and marking tube, though I suppose they’re queen-safe. I hadn’t seen a queen muff, but had been envisioning making one before I learned to hold a queen on my own. I might still make or buy one anyway.

    • I guess I should practice on drones. That appears to be a popular way to learn and it seems to work.

  • This is a great site for me. This is my 4th year beekeeping. I enjoy it, a lot! There is always something new to learn.

    In my opinion, I’ve been lucky and got a hold of some good bees. They are pretty much “dummy proof” and they have forgave most if not all of the mistakes I’ve made. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve killed a bunch bees! But these girls have been good to me.

    With that being said, I want to expand the number of hives I have, and keep records of hives and queens. This particular article answers all my question in regards to marking queens. I have avoided marking my queens because I have big stiff fingers, from old injuries.

    To whom it may concern: THANKS for putting together this site and the dedication that goes into keeping it the best learning tool I’ve had the pleasure of using for beekeeping.

    • Yes, you can use nail polish. But the brush that comes with it is too large. You need to cut it back to get a fine point.

  • Mrs Temple got me an intro to beekeeping course for Christmas, and now I’m hooked. Equipment is on its way and bees are just behind.

    Rusty, thank you *SO* much for this site. It truly is a treasure. I’ve been absorbing so much every night since my (very high-level) class ended.

    The teacher of the course (Bob Liptrop) I took is a local mead producer, and he swears by queen marking discs (example here: He said he’s tried all the gadgets and this was the one he keeps with him always.

    Like you, I’m a person who has to understand to learn, and this one just makes sense. You gently lower it around the queen as she sits on the comb eventually holding her in place. The gaps in the bars allow the workers to crawl out, but the queen stays put. Ample space to work with and get your marking tool onto her.

    Ever tried it? What do you think? Bob keeps his in a little tin in his pocket, so he’s always ready to mark a queen if he spots her.

  • I am thinking of raising queens, how long does the marking last? Does nail polish last any longer?

    • John,

      I’ve seen queen markings last anywhere from about three months to three years. Maybe someone else can answer about the nail polish; I never tried it myself.

  • I have used the round dome cage with a handle to mark my queens. It can be tricky though. Almost like wack a mole game at the arcade. You have to dab her as she is in the right spot and can be hard if she keeps moving. I did purchase a plunger cage to try. And if I am courageous I also have a queen muff. I may practice as mentioned on drones first. Thanks for your site.

  • Hello.

    By any chance, do you know where I can buy the plastic queen catcher, the exactly the same as the one shown under “How to Mark a Queen”?

    I understand that this kind of plastic queen catcher is available in Europe, but I am trying to locate who carries it in North America.

    We have a smilar/almost identical one but it is made of stainless steel, which is a great tool but being steel, it is cold to use to catch and cage the queen temporarily unless the weather is hot in summer time. I am in Northwest part of Canada, so to use stainless steel queen catcher is not recommendable, except in hot summer days.

  • I pick up queens barehanded by their wings, approaching them from behind, then transfer them to my left hand, holding them along their thorax between my thumb and index finger. I can’t seem to consistently get a grip of their legs on both sides and worry about damaging their legs so use this body hold instead. The brush in a nail polish bottle is way too large so I dip a wooden matchstick sparingly and press it lightly onto the thorax, rotating it slightly to get the polish through the hair and onto the exoskeleton. Then I pop her into a pill bottle that has a bunch of small ventilation holes drilled into it and let her walk around in there as the polish dries. Training oneself to do this with drones is risk-free and provides the sense of how to hold them with your non-dominant hand.
    To apply numbered discs, I put a tiny dap of PVA wood glue on her thorax and transfer the disc with a wooden matchstick wetted with saliva.
    For me the largest hurdle in this process was the confidence required to pick up the queen from the comb barehanded and not be concerned that the workers would attack that bare hand. Sometimes they’ll walk around on my hand as I’m corralling the queen or after I’ve picked her up but I haven’t gotten stung yet.

  • Hi Rusty

    I’m fairly new to beekeeping (3rd year) and your advice has been invaluable – thanks so much.

    My first hive lost its queen last year. They got very aggressive and re-queening failed, so this spring I introduced a couple of frames of eggs and brood from my second hive (captured swarm) and I was thrilled to discover that they had raised a new queen and calmed down as a result. She hadn’t started laying so I assume that she hasn’t mated yet. In my excitement, I marked her and have now been told that I shouldn’t have done that. Is that true and if so, why?

    Thanks again


    • Dave,

      Until a virgin queen is mated, her pheromones are not well-developed so she doesn’t have much sway with the colony. So if they perceive her as damaged in some way, say she smells like the marking pen or looks funny, they might destroy her. Or she may be fine, but it adds a layer of risk.

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