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Picking up or catching Queen Honey Bees
and Workers

Often considered difficult by those that have not tried it. While a little practice helps, it is that little practice that is all that is really required.

There are several ways of picking up queens, but only one 'safe' way of picking up workers. It makes sense to use the same method at all times, because you will become more skilled with each session of 'picking up'.

I will first describe the methods that I think are least favourable, I say this from a personal point of view and it is possible that some others may come to a different conclusion. All the methods use the thumb and forefinger, but the differences are in positioning, all require confidence and firmness, but a delicacy of touch is also required. The sensitivity of touch is so important that gloves are not used, although keeping the hands gloved until the last moment will help to keep your fingers free of propolis or honey (neither of which is 'helpful' in this operation) and often the fingers will be soft from a minor degree of sweating inside the gloves.

The first method is one that I have never used myself, in fact I see it as quite difficult to achieve. It involves thumb and forefinger gripping over an area of the queen's dorsal surface with a similar contact patch with the other digit on the ventral surface. The area of the contact patch covers mainly the thorax, but also has a light controlling pressure on the part of the abdomen nearest to the thorax. The finger and thumb can be either in line with the queen's body or transverse to it.

The second variation has the thumb and forefinger approaching from either side of the queen's middle region again with contact pressure on both the thorax and front part of the abdomen. A good variation to this technique is to use the thumb and second finger as the grippers and this allows the index finger to apply additional pressure on the queen's upper surface. I find this method quite easy myself, but I do have rather small hands that have soft skin.

The third and recommended method has similarities with the method used for everting drones in order to establish viability or to collect their semen. It controls the queen by pinching the wing tips.

A tip that I picked up from Mike Palmer on the Norlands list...

"When adding workers to the cage, choose workers who have their heads in a honey cell. Their wing tips are sticking out behind... Making them really easy to pick up."

This is an ideal way of filling a small number of queencages with attendants, but larger numbers of cages are better filled using the Filling Method.

Dave Cushman.

Page created pre-2011

In around 60 years of beekeeping, I have always picked up queens and workers manually, queens to clip and mark, workers to put in queen cages. I have clipped and marked many thousands of queens and never used any of the aids that are available. If I do a demonstration, I always do it manually. I have never damaged a queen, but I have seen many queens damaged or killed when others have used or demonstrated using an aid.

When teaching, I get people to practice on drones. I pick one up and get the people to try to squeeze the thorax, because apart from wings, that's all I hold. The thorax is very tough, as it's basically solid muscle with a hole through it. That's rather simplified, but it has to power 4 wings and 6 legs. This shows that if you just hold the thorax, no damage will be done, but I have seen many just grab the abdomen, which if done strongly enough to hold a queen will damage her and she will be superseded very quickly.

I will briefly describe my technique, but I wouldn't use this, as it's much easier to watch. I hold the queen by the wings, then transfer her onto the middle finger of the opposite hand, where she will grab hold of it with her flailing legs. Then push her down gently so her thorax is in contact with the finger. With the thumb, middle and index fingers, I hold her by the thorax. She can be clipped and marked easily.

For picking up workers, I do the same as Mike Palmer above. The good thing about this method is that as the workers have been feeding, they are able to feed the queen for several hours in a cage.

Roger Patterson.

Page updated 15/12/2022