This nasty looking gadget is known as a baldock cage, it
is simple to use and will not harm the queen providing that it is not
pressed too heavily into the comb. When it is not in use, press it
into a piece of expanded polystyrene foam (styrofoam) which will
protect your hands from the sharp points and the prongs themselves
Clipping and Marking Queens
This method of marking is employed when an unmarked queen
is in a full sized colony.
It is used with the prongs on the surface of capped brood,
unfortunately a few pupae may be damaged by the prongs, but this is a
small price to pay for a simple method.
The spacing between the prongs is large enough to allow
workers to escape but the queen has a larger thorax and thus is
captive. She is immobilized by pressing the cage down until she is
gripped by the soft and compliant mesh. When she is still it is an
easy matter to dab on paint or cement a numbered disc to her. A few
moments delay to allow the paint or cement to dry and the cage is
There is a colour scheme in use for marking honey bee
|White for years that end in 1 or 6.|
Yellow is used when a year ends in 2 or 7.
Red if a year ends with a 3 or 8.
Green when 4 or 9 is the last digit.
Blue if the year ends in a 5 or a 0.
There is a phrase that helps you memorise this...|
What You Rear Green
Then all you have to remember is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
and you will never need to consult the book again!
There are also coloured discs, numbered discs and numbered
discs on coloured backgrounds. Grey is occasionally used instead of
white. I have used quick drying silver paint sometimes, as this is very
Murray McGregor has an alternative system that he uses to
differentiate imported queens... so in a white year he uses silver and
the other years run yellow/orange, red/pink, green/pale green,
I often use numbered discs that I cement in place using
coloured lacquer as glue. The colour of the lacquer gives me a batch
code. My list of batch codes is
brown=1, red=2, orange=3, yellow=4,
green=5, blue=6, purple=7, grey=8, white=9, black=0 (10).
The discs are small and difficult to handle... An easy way
to have them ready for the instant that you require them, is to put
one end a piece of thin tubing in your mouth place the end of the tube
on the top surface of the disc then apply suction with your mouth. The
disc will stay in position and can be allowed to dangle ready to be
applied when you have dotted the adhesive on the queen. This suction
method can be applied to picking queens from combs, but you will need
a slightly greater diameter of tubing. The soft PVC tubing I use for
number pick up came from a surgical 'butterfly' (picture at right)
which had a piece of tubing 900 mm in length and 1.8 mm diameter. For
picking up queens a piece of silicone rubber tubing, about 3 mm in
diameter, can be utilised (obtain from medical suppliers). Plastic
tubing can be used providing a silicone rubber cuff is added to the
I also had a lurid lime green and a lightish lilac colour that were
used in place of any colour that I had run out of. My batch marking
code is that used in identifying electronic components and it led to
an error recently... I was convinced in my mind that my list agreed
with the 'normal' one at the figure two... I was wrong yellow is two,
there is no equality at any number in the two systems.
The following description of using the tube cage has been
lifted from an Email to the 'Irish List' sent by Brian Cramp.
The tube cage, this is better when using the glue and
numbered discs, as you can take the queen away from the hive and
buzzing bees to mark her, with this cage you can also clip one wing
at the same time. The cage consists of a 30 mm glass (or plastic) tube
about 80 mm long with a 5 mm sq elastic mesh stretched over
one end and held in place with a rubber band, a 28 mm plunger covered
on the top with a 9 mm thickness of soft plastic foam. To use it the
queen is captured in the open end of the tube and the plunger inserted
into the mouth of the tube, to hold her captive. Cover the brood box
to keep the bees happy while you take the queen away to mark her,
prepare the glue and disc then push the plunger up to trap the queen
against the mesh with the dome of her thorax through a mesh hole to
mark her. If you also wish to clip a wing, you can twist the plunger
slightly and one wing tip will poke through the mesh, cut off about
4 mm and the job is done. Withdraw the plunger about 25 mm the queen
will walk about un-harmed wait a few minutes to let the glue or paint
dry, pull the cover off the brood box place the tube along a seam
between the frames, pull the plunger out, and let the queen walk out
and down on to the comb.
future picture about marking using baldock cage
Karl Jenter manufactures this plastic device that resembles
a clothes peg, they call it 'queen pliers', I prefer 'queen tongs',
which sound a little less brutal. This has soft sponge areas for
gripping the queen's abdomen and small, stubby, transverse silicone
rubber tubes that grip the sides of the queen's thorax. I have one of
these items myself, but I have never used it, (it came with other
items along with a cell plug box). It is spring loaded and the 'grip
limit' can be set using the thumbscrew.
The snippers themselves are intended for precision cutting
of sewing stitches and are known as stitch snippers. The curly cord is
available from baby shops as they are expected to be used to secure
babies dummies so that they do not get lost.
I find that a safety pin in my bee suit just below my right
shoulder allows the coiled tether to extend to a position that is easy
for my right hand to grasp.
The closeness of contact between the edges of the two
blades is easy to sense so that a crisp, clean cut may be made.
They are only suited to right handed use, unless a
left handed person develops an upward cutting motion.
My Method is right for me because I have small, soft hands.
Those with large stubby fingers and hard dry skin may have difficulty
holding the queen's legs with sufficient sensitivity. I suspect that
this method is best suited to the ladies.
I use elasticated calico cuffs and no gloves, although the
top quality surgical gloves may be suitable, this is one occasion
that the extra sensitivity of bare flesh is needed. I have been stung
by a queen (once only), but it is very, very rare for this to happen.
You will also receive the occasional sting from a worker whilst
performing this operation.
I should say that I normally perform clipping and marking
on queens that have just started to lay, in the nuc that they were
mated from. Such nucs have few bees and have an adequate dosage of
queen pheromone to keep them calm.
Step by step (assuming right handed)
Using your right hand, pick the queen off the comb using thumb and
forefinger to grip both pairs of her wings... as shown left.
Then point the forefinger of your left
hand at your right shoulder, keeping your hand up towards your face
at a comfortable distance for good vision. (Illustrated at right.)
Offer the queen towards the tip of your left index finger and she will
grip it with all six legs. Now gently close the tip of the left thumb
and the side of the second finger onto the queens legs. You may now
release the grip of your right hand (left picture).
Aim your left hand at an angle as if to miss your right shoulder then
slightly lift the queen's right wing with the tip of the lower blade
of the snipper, position the blade so that about one third of the wing
will be amputated. After ensuring that there is no spare leg involved
and that the blades are perpendicular to the wing surface... complete
the cut. Do the marking first particularly if using fish glue, to
attach numbered discs, which requires a longer drying time.
Dab on your marking paint or glue your numbered identification disc
Then while the paint dries... do the clipping operation.
Some texts advocate the use of surgical scissors to perform
this cut. But such scissors are not so easy to keep sharp and do not
give the operator enough 'sensory feedback' to ensure perfect blade
contact throughout the cut and as a result can cause tearing rather a
I have never marked unmated queens, as I think the risk of
non acceptance is much higher as the virgin will be perceived by the
bees a 'defective', they are less likely to pay her the attention she
needs and may well supercede her quickly... See page on
which also has links to other similar pages.
It has been suggested by some that the hands should be
swabbed with alcohol between marking one queen and picking up another,
to avoid the transfer of the 'smell' of one queen to the next. I have
marked and clipped queens, around thirty at a time, sequentially, using
the method shown above. I did not wash my fingers between queens and
I do not recall any problems. The mating nucs contain small frames
that are of such a size that the total frame area is about equal to
one Langstroth deep frame. with 1000 -1500 bees. Thus, what queen
pheromone there is, is spread relatively thickly over a small quantity
I have heard reports of some paint markings only lasting for
two years or so. There are two reasons for this, one is paint quality,
but the other is a little more subtle. The thorax of the queen is not
totally smooth and does have some hair on it, applying paint using a
small brush only wets the tips of the hairs and the bulk of the paint
does not penetrate to the carapace. The workers are able to nibble
away at the paint and slowly remove it. To avoid this you need to
'print' the mark using the end of a wooden match stick or similar,
applying the paint in this fashion makes it penetrate right through
the hair to the carapace itself.
Written... 08 March 2001, Revised... 31 Dec 2001, 02 Apl 2002
Additions... 18 June 2002