Marking Queens & Nosema

Thursday 30 July 2020

In up-coming blogs, one of our focuses will be practical honey bee queen management skills. Follow our blog over the rest of the summer for some helpful information on managing your queens.

Marking Queens

Marking queens, a skill that takes some time to master, serves a few important purposes for beekeepers.  When queens are marked, they are much easier to spot in a hive, especially in a large colony. During any hive manipulations (splitting, making nucs, combining hives, harvesting honey, hive inspections) spotting the queen and putting her aside in a safe place can prevent any injuries to the queen or avoid placing her by mistake into a split or new colony. In addition to spotting the queen more easily, marking the queen also allows beekeepers to track her age. The color marking indicates the birth year of the queen (Figure 1). Knowing the age of queens can help beekeepers determine if they would like to replace an aging queen with a younger one.


Years ending in



1 & 6


2 & 7


3 & 8


4 & 9


5 & 0

Figure 1: Color code for marking bees. To remember, beekeepers use the acronym, “Will you raise great bees?”

There are different methods used to mark queens. Finding a method that works consistently is important to become more confident in handling queens and will lessen the risk of injury. Practicing on drones is also a way to gain confidence before attempting to mark queens. With all methods, care has to be taken to not squish the queen or put excessive stress on her. Queen marking pens are available which makes it easier to place a dot on the thorax without dripping paint, but some beekeepers may prefer using a small container of paint and an applicator brush. A push in cage, a queen catching clip or a tube and plunger can also be used to help catch and mark queens if handling with fingers is too difficult (Figure 2). The following queen marking method is from an experienced beekeeper who marks hundreds of queens every year:

Pick the queen up with your right hand between your pointer finger and your thumb. 
Hold her against your pointer finger on your left hand until she extends her three legs on the left side.
Put her three legs between your finger and thumb on the left hand, which frees your right hand to get the paint pen.

  • Mark her thorax with a dot and release the queen back on a frame. Allow time for the paint to dry before placing her back in the hive.

Alternatively you can hold the queens thorax between your finger and thumb with her back facing upwards allowing you to mark the back of the thorax.  As with all beekeeping practices, the more experience you have, the more confidence you gain. Whatever queen handling method you choose, the question remains, “Will you raise great bees?”

Queen marking pens
Queen catching clips
Tube & Plunger
Queen push in cage

Figure 2: Queen handling tools

Nosema Levels in Honey Bees

This year, ATTTA is monitoring Nosema levels in the Maritime provinces.

During the spring of 2020, relatively high levels of Nosema have been observe with an average of 6 550 000 spores per bee across the Maritimes for the months of April and May. In comparison, we found the average spore count in April and May 2018 for untreated hives was 870 000 spores per bee. Over 70% of hives observed during these two months of 2020 had an average spore count higher than the treatment threshold for Fumagilin of one million spores per bee. Samples collected in late June and July are still being processed but preliminary results are suggestive of a decreasing trend in spore counts.

Figure 1(a) shows an infestation level of approximately 1 500 000 spores per bee which is just above the suggested threshold for Fumagilin treatment of 1 000 000 spores/bee. Figure 1(b) demonstrates an infestation level of approximately 11 250 000 spores per bee. This level of infestation has been a common observation during the months of April and May. The June and July samples being processed are indicated relatively lower levels of Nosema, similar to figure 1.

a) b) 

Figure 1. Microscope image showing Nosema spores. (a) Nosema infestation level: 1 500 000 spores per bee (b) Nosema infestation level: 11 250 000 spores per bee. Red circle indicates Nosema spore.

Nosema species has been shifting towards a dominance of Nosema ceranae rather than Nosema apis. Fumagilin was developed to help control Nosema apis but research done by ATTTA shows that it is also effective in controlling Nosema ceranae. Fumagilin treatment cost varies widely with hive size and hive numbers from 2$ to 5$ per hive.

The details of our recent Nosema trial can be found on the following ATTTA newsletter: Stay tuned to our blog and find out what happens during August to Nosema levels across the Maritimes.

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