Date: 24th March 2021
Although the queen is larger and has a longer body than the workers and drones in a colony of honey bees, it can nevertheless be a challenge to identify her quickly in the hive. For this reason, beekeepers use a special paint which is carefully and lightly dabbed on to the thorax of the queen. In this way, the queen can more easily be recognized on the frame by the spot of paint.
Beekeepers do not always mark the queen, but there are a number of advantages. A little dab of paint carefully applied to the thorax of the queen, may be a fiddly task but can save much time later.
It's worth taking the time to be careful and it's helpful to have a little equipment ready and prepared to ensure the delicate queen is not damaged or harmed in any way. You want to make sure the paint does not end up where it's not supposed to, such as on the wings, eyes, head. You'll also want to avoid injury, especially to her legs. Her legs are very important but easily trapped or squashed. The queen uses her legs to help her squat in the correct position for egg laying.
Using the queen catcher, carefully remove the queen from the hive. Try to ensure you catch only the queen and as few workers as possible - preferably no workers. Workers inside the queen catcher with the queen will tend to lick the paint off her once applied. Blow workers away, or use a goose feather to gently shoo them.
Apply the paint - as stated above, a specially designed pen containing bee paint is recommended, such as POSCA mentioned above, because it makes the process easier and potentially safer for the queen. Allow the paint to dry before releasing her back to the colony.
Below is a handy short video demonstrating the method simply:
If you only have one hive and keep notes, white paint should suffice. However, the internationally agreed system of colour-coding honey bee queens provides a standardized means to be certain of her age. The system repeats itself every 5 years: