Sometimes you need to find your queen, and sometimes you only need to know that she is alive and well. The presence of eggs means she was there sometime during the last three days. The presence of larvae (uncapped brood) means she was there between three and nine days ago, depending on how large the larvae are.
But, if you absolutely must find an unmarked queen, there’s nothing like a little practice. You’ll find that spotting her gets much easier after you’ve done it a few times and learn how to look.
Start with the outer frames
Start your search by removing one of the outer frames. Check it quickly and set it aside. This gives you some room to work, and makes it less likely that you will “roll” the queen as you inspect the rest. Although it is possible to find your queen on an end frame, it is rare. Usually she will stay close to the center on a frame that contains some brood.
So slide the frames one-by-one into the empty space until you get to the edge of the brood nest. You will recognize this area because instead of just honey, you will see some cells filled with brood, or cells that recently contained brood. You may also notice cells filled with pollen. Gently lift the first of these out and scan for the queen.
Scan for the unexpected
When I’m scanning a frame, I don’t look at individual bees but I look for something different, something that doesn’t quite fit the pattern. The queen is not only longer with a pointed abdomen, but she stands with all six legs splayed apart. She can move quickly, and the workers part the way for her as she goes. And when she stops, a group of them will stand facing her. You can often spot her by watching for this activity. She will often dart to the dark side of the frame, however, so when you turn it over look quickly before she again heads for the shadows.
Check both sides of each frame, replacing it in the hive after you’ve looked. Be sure to leave a space between the ones you’ve checked and the ones you haven’t so the queen can’t go where you already inspected. And most importantly, remember to hold the frames above the brood boxes so if the queen falls off, she will land back in the hive.
You can go through the frames a second time if you don’t succeed on the first pass, but quit and close the hive if the second try doesn’t work. After twice through, the hive needs time to calm down and restore order. You can try again on another day.