How to Spot the Queen: Physical Features

Find out what to look for when inspecting a hive’s inhabitants to identify the queen. Everything from abdomens, legs, backs and colors will set them apart.

A queen bee. Photo from Getty Images/Frank Greenaway

The most straightforward way to identify a queen bee is by her physical features. At first, it can be difficult to distinguish her from the worker bees and especially the drones. All the bees might look the same to you, but if you look closely she has some key differences.

The queen’s elongated abdomen is one of her most prominent features. It extends well beyond her worker bee–size set of wings, making her wings appear undersize. When a beginner is confronted with a bee that registers as larger than the others, I always tell them to check the wings. Some worker bees are subtly bigger than others and drones are often mistaken for queens because of their size, but the queen is the only bee in the hive with wings that do not reach the end of the abdomen.

A comparison of the queen and a worker bee. Photo from Alamy Stock Photo

Long golden legs are another trait unique to the queen. Some queen breeds have dark legs, but typically a queen will have light-colored legs that contrast with the dark legs of worker bees and drones. Regardless of their color, a queen’s legs are extralong. When she is not in motion they are splayed languorously. On close inspection, a queen’s legs also differ from that of a worker bee’s because they lack ­corbiculae, the concave pollen-collecting apparatus located on the tibia of a worker’s hind legs.

Her hairless back can also distinguish the queen from the other bees. Workers and drones have fuzzy backs, but the queen has a shiny black back that can really stand out if you’re looking for it. It’s not always visible in photos, but there is also a cleft down the middle of her back.



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