Evaluating a Queen Bees Quality

The longer you keep bees and the number of hives you have better your ability to evaluate and asses the quality of your queen. So when selecting a queen breeder, its a good idea to know how long they have been keeping bees and if they have been successful.

In order to produce a quality queen bee, the queens breeder needs to have a well organized system of selecting the best genetics to from which to breed queens.  Have a large numbers of field hives that are worked and monitored to develop superior bee hives and queen bees. The queens in the field hives are used for drone supply hives from which the top performing hives are bred from.

Hamakua Apiaries maintains a ratio of 25 percent drone support hives for every 100 queen mating nucs.  In order to ensure there is sufficient genetic diversity (new stock) we regularly introduce genetic stock from other queen bee breeders into our system. This introduction is done into the field hive population and monitored for desired traits described later. Queen bees and hives with desirable traits are moved up into drone supply. We personally never graft from anything other than our own queen bees preferring to bring the diversity through subsequent generations through drones with desirable traits.

That said, what will tell you whether the queen bee that you have is a quality, high performing, queen bee or not?  Below are some ideal queen bee traits Some traits are visible only through their progeny (offspring).

  • Color. Due to the closed nature of the Hawaiian queen bee market, it is impossible to import new ‘races’ except through drone semen. Most breeders work hard to get their queen bees to conform to either Italian or Carnolian color traits. T his is an visual consideration, but most beekeepers are more interested in performance and traits listed below.
  • Laying pattern. Queen bees should lay in large areas of eggs that are of the same or very similar age. They should be move onto new, drawn, clean frames and lay them up quickly during the season.
  • Quick to build up and shut down. As spring begins and the weather warms, it is important for the queen bee to increase their laying quickly in an organized way. This can be particularly important for beekeepers who do pollination work. Similarly as the season begins to cool, the queen bees should begin to slow her laying down to minimize hive populations for best overwintering.
  • Movement. A well mated queen bee should move smoothly across the frame and not in a jittery manor and be fairly settled.
  • Shape and size. In general queen bees should be 1 ½ to 2 times as long as a worker bee. It should be noted that if a queen has been in a cage for a while, the queen bees tend to shrink up when not laying. It may take a short time to increase her size as she begins laying again.

There are also a number of desirable traits visible through the queens progeny.

  • Varroa Sensitive Hygiene. Varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) is a behavioral trait of honey bees in which bees detect and remove bee pupae that are infested by the parasitic mite Varroa destructor.
  • Active but not aggressive. Worker honey bees should be active on the frame and quick to fly foraging once temperature warms however not aggressive when hives are opened.
  • Hygienic behavior. Hives should be free of debris and have damaged brood removed rapidly by the workers. This can be tested by hygiene testing.
  • Good winter clustering. Once the temperature decreases and winter
    begins worker bees must cluster on brood to maintain temperature and keep themselves and the larvae alive.
  • Honey production. For most beekeepers the bulk of their income comes from producing honey. If all other traits are satisfactory in their queen bees it should flow through to good strong hives, healthy honey bees, and therefore good, large honey crops. 

The queen bee is the engine that drives your hive. The queen bees quality and performance is essential to the health and productivity of your hive and ultimately your business or hobby.