Meet the Remarkable Queen Bee and Discover the Drama at the Heart of the Hive; Includes 48 Queenspotting Challenges


By Hilary Kearney

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At the heart of every bee hive is a queen bee. Since her well-being is linked to the well-being of the entire colony, the ability to find her among the residents of the hive is an essential beekeeping skill. In QueenSpotting, experienced beekeeper and professional “swarm catcher” Hilary Kearney challenges readers to “spot the queen” with 48 fold-out visual puzzles — vivid up-close photos of the queen hidden among her many subjects.

QueenSpotting celebrates the unique, fascinating life of the queen bee and chronicles royal hive happenings such as The Virgin Death Match, The Nuptual Flight — when the queen mates with a cloud of male drones high in the air — and the dramatic Exodus of the Swarm from the hive. Readers will thrill at Kearney’s adventures in capturing these swarms from the strange places they settle, including a Jet Ski, a couch, a speed boat, and an owl’s nesting box. Fascinating, fun, and instructive, backyard beekeepers and nature lovers alike will find reason to return to the pages again and again.


For my friends and family.

Sorry about all the bee stings.

You know who you are.

Thanks for being cool about it.


Preface: Flash of Splendor

How to Use This Book

Why Find the Queen?

Inside a Honey Bee Colony

The Hive Mind


The Worker Bee

Queenspotting Puzzles 1–4: Easy

The Queen Bee

The Drone


Turning Nectar into Honey

Queenspotting Puzzles 5–12: Intermediate

Life Cycle

The Life of the Queen Bee


Virgin Death Match

House Hunting

Queenspotting Puzzles 13–20: Intermediate

The Short-Distance Swarm


Queen Piping: Tooting and Quacking

Queen Confinement

Supernumerary Queens

Nuptial Flight

Queenspotting Puzzles 21–30: Intermediate and Advanced

A Queen's Day



Queenspotting Puzzles 31–42: Advanced

Marking the Queen

Queen Breeding

How the Spot the Queen

Physical Features

Queenspotting Puzzles 43–48: Advanced

Patterns and Behavior

Colony Composition

Hiding Places

Real-World Strategies for Hard-to-Find Queens

Queen Hide-and-Seek

Queenspotted! (Answer Key)



Metric Conversion Chart

Get all the Buzz about Pollinators with More Storey Books

About the Author

Share Your Experience!

Flash of Splendor

No matter how often I find the queen bee, it still brings me a small thrill or a warm sense of satisfaction. As someone who spends almost every day in a bee suit, cracking open hives, I am surprised that the flash of splendor I feel at the sight of her does not dull with repetition. She is the sole bee in her caste, an illustrious member of the colony.

Yet every queen bee is unique — not just in appearance, but also in behavior. She can be slender and tiger-striped or fat and golden. She might slither with surprising speed until she is buried under a pile of worker bees or showboat in the open. I love to observe these showy starlets and often linger in my work when they put themselves on display. I'm never certain whether they are basking in the sun or in the glow of my admiration.

It is the work of this single bee — the queen — that makes both a beehive and my career possible. The mother of all the bees in the hive, she tirelessly lays eggs to keep her colony going. She is the focal point of my affection, and I am forever grateful to her for giving me a job.

Beekeeping allows me to revel in joys many people part with after childhood. On most days I am sticky with honey, coated in dirt, playing with insects, and ready for adventure. When I am not tending my apiaries, I teach beekeeping classes, lead tours, and rescue wild colonies. A large part of my mission is to share what I know with others in a way that is fun and accessible, and I hope that I leave my readers as enchanted with bees as I am.

This deep appreciation and fascination led me to a career in beekeeping. Bees fill me with a sense of wonder. Once I started learning about them, I could not stop.

It was a book that got me started. I flipped through the pages with curiosity, but no intention. I wasn't planning to become a beekeeper, but as I journeyed further into the book, into the world of bees, I was so astounded by their complexity that I was transformed. I had been an art student with a penchant for vintage clothing, and then I was ­sitting before the scrap-wood hive my dad made for me — mesmerized, a zephyr of wings brushing my face.

That first summer, I filled my backyard with illegal beehives. The city had not yet legalized urban beekeeping, but that didn't stop me. My paint-spattered clothing became freckled with propolis, and I kept reading. At my office job, I flipped between e-mails and beekeeping forums. I caught swarms on my lunch breaks. My love for bees engulfed me.

Everything about them still surprises and fascinates me. They are sculptors, dancers, mathematicians, and acrobats. From dance-offs to death matches, they never cease to amaze.

At the center of it all is a single queen. It's no wonder she has transfixed me.

How to Use This Book

You needn't keep bees to enjoy this book, but if you do, you will find it practical as well as entertaining. In the pages to come, readers will be confronted with a challenge: finding the queen bee. Newcomers to Queenspotting can learn how to recognize the queen in How to Spot the Queen. Even if the queen eludes you, throughout the book there are detailed photos, fascinating insights into the world of bees, and some of my wildest stories.

New and veteran beekeepers will get a buzz from these brainteasers, but beginners will also hone a valuable beekeeping skill. Locating the queen in the hive is something every beekeeper will need to do at some point, but it is especially critical for those who want to requeen. Yet many still struggle to find Her Highness. This book will provide helpful tricks for spotting the queen on and off the page as well as the opportunity to practice without ever opening the hive!

Children not only love to play Queenspotting, but they even excel at it! I'm not sure if it's the similarity to Where's Waldo or the agility of their young minds, but don't be surprised if your child bests you. I can't think of a more engaging way to teach children about the importance of bees and their queens.

Hidden in each challenge picture is a queen bee. As you journey through the pages, the difficulty will escalate, testing your ability to spot her.

Why Find the Queen?

During a typical inspection, it is not necessary for a beekeeper to find the queen. It is fun and useful to recognize her if you come across her, but eggs and young larvae are usually sufficient evidence of her presence in the hive. However, there are some scenarios where finding the queen becomes necessary, such as requeening, when there are swarm cells present in the hive, or when making new colonies.

. . . Because you must requeen

The most common reason beekeepers must find their queen is that they need to requeen their hive. Requeening requires the beekeeper to locate the queen at least twice: first to find and remove the original queen and second to ensure that the new queen has been accepted. If the original queen is not removed, the worker bees will remain loyal to her and kill the newly installed one.

Even when the original queen is removed, requeening can still go awry. Worker bees prefer queens that are genetically related to them and often attempt to raise replacement queens in lieu of accepting the queen that the beekeeper installed. This is especially true if the new queen is a different breed from the rest of the colony. A colony of Russian bees is less likely to accept a queen that came from Italian lineage, for example.

Sometimes the workers kill the new queen straightaway. Other times they disingenuously allow the new queen to live, while planning to overthrow her once the new queens hatch from their cells. So, a beekeeper will need to destroy any supersedure cells and also physically locate the new queen to confirm that she has been accepted.

. . . Because you find swarm cells

A beekeeper should also locate the queen when confronted with swarm cells. If queen cells are built on the edges of the comb, it typically means that the bees intend to swarm. Many beekeepers like to suppress or control swarming behavior. They don't want to lose their good queen or all that honey the bees will carry with them when they go!

Swarming is most easily controlled if it is caught early, when the queen cells are still cups. Queen cups look like small acorn tops. They are short and may contain an egg, a young larva, or ­nothing at all. As the larva grows, the worker bees will extend the cup downward and eventually cap it, creating a queen cell, when the larva is ready to pupate.

If weather allows, the original queen leaves with the swarm well after the cells have been built, but before the new queens emerge. It can be tricky to stop swarming once it is underway, but if only queen cups are found, a beekeeper can be pretty confident that their queen has not yet left.

I often pinch off newly made queen cups during inspections and add empty frames to the brood nest to keep the bees occupied with building new comb. But when I encounter a more developed queen cell, I am careful not to destroy it until I have seen my queen. Even eggs are not enough to confirm her presence. She could have laid them the day before and left already. She must be located before any action is taken.

If a beekeeper removes the queen cells and the queen has already left with the swarm, the keeper has not only failed to stop the colony from swarming but most likely rendered it queenless as well. If the swarming process has progressed too far, it's often better to let the bees sort it out themselves rather than try to interfere, especially if the queen is not found.

. . . Because you are dividing a hive to create a new colony

If a beekeeper decides to make a new colony, finding the queen is extremely helpful. These new colonies, called splits or nucleus colonies, are made from one large colony. The beekeeper separates out a percentage of the hive's population to form one, or sometimes many, new hives.

Most beekeepers like to leave the original queen in the mother colony and install new queens in each of the new colonies. If this method is used, however, and the original queen cannot be found, the beekeeper may accidentally place two queens in one hive — a mistake that always results in the death of the newly installed, caged queen.

. . . Because you are filling an observation hive

I frequently take frames out of my hives to fill my observation hive, a windowed travel box designed to hold one or two frames of bees for the enjoyment of the public. It's useful to be able to spot the queen when doing this because either you deliberately want to show her in your observation hive, or you take special care not to include her, so you won't risk her being injured.

. . . Because You Are Harvesting Honey

If you aren't using a queen excluder, you can't be sure of your queen's location within the hive. She may be in the honey supers (where honey is collected). If you plan to harvest, you want to be able to find your queen to be sure you don't harm her during the ­process of removing the bees from the honeycomb — and you definitely don't want her as a honey-super stowaway.

. . . Because you are doing a bee removal


  • “Few will be able to resist beekeeper Kearney’s master class in beekeeping, a delightful mixture of how-to tips, popular science trivia, and interactive challenges... [A] spellbinding study of one of the world’s most important insects, and one with appeal for kids as well as adults.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review) 
    “A unique contribution to the vast sea of books on bees and beekeeping, and super useful for beekeepers hoping to hone their queen-finding skills. A brilliant little book!"  — Thomas D. Seeley, author of The Lives of Hives, Honeybee Democracy, and The Wisdom of the Hive 

    "Entertaining and educational. A great read for bee lovers and new-bees alike!" — Melissa Hayes, MinuteEarth

    “What a trip! Delightfully written and technically accurate, Queenspotting peeks into the queen’s domain. With fresh prose and charming stories from the field, Kearney leads you through the intricacies of hive life and royal behavior. But more than that, the book is just plain fun. I couldn’t rest until I spotted every wily monarch!” — Rusty Burlew, HoneyBeeSuite.com

    “Hilary Kearney writes lyrically, specifically, and succinctly, in a way that communicates her fascination and wonder while being factually accurate. Anyone interested in bees will enjoy this book.” — Michael Bush, author of The Practical Beekeeper

    It is rare that a single book can appeal to such a variety of readers: curious non-beekeepers who will appreciate the good science writing and enjoy the puzzles; beginning beekeepers who want to increase their knowledge and queen-spotting skills; and experienced beekeepers will find their sense of wonder about bees rekindled and be able to congratulate themselves on having developed really good 'queen eyes.'"— Better Bee

On Sale
Apr 30, 2019
Page Count
128 pages

Hilary Kearney

Hilary Kearney

About the Author

Hilary Kearney is the author of QueenSpotting and the creator of Girl Next Door Honey, a beekeeping business that offers educational opportunities to hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She maintains the blog Beekeeping Like A Girl and her writing on bees has appeared in Modern Farmer and Grit magazines. Her work has been the subject of features in Huffington Post, Vogue, Mother Earth News, and other outlets. She rescues wild bee colonies and manages around 90 hives in her hometown of San Diego, California.

Learn more about this author