I’m not going to suggest how you should hold a queen and a paint bucket when you mark your monarch. For that, I added a video, which you’ll find below. Instead, when your favourite queen supplier gives you a choice (“Marked?”) and you agree to a dab of paint on the queen’s thorax, here’s what you should know about the colour.
Queen breeders use a different colour to mark queens each year. The system, called The International Queen Marking Color Code system, has been around for a couple generations. This year, 2016, they are repeating the colour used 5 years ago – white. Queens reared in years ending in a ‘1’ (as 2011) or ending in a ‘6’ (as 2016) are supposed to be marked with white paint. Next year, the colour is yellow, just as it was in 2012. If, perchance, you notice a queen with a yellow mark on her thorax this spring, then she is over 4 years old. It’s a smart system, but it’s hard to remember colours that rotate like this:
I find this hard to remember. You might use some pithy little mnemonic
(“Wow! You’ve Really Got Bees!”) using the first letter of each colour
(White, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue) in the order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. But for me, a visual image is stronger. So, I created this image. Take a full minute to study it and you will never forget it:
Here’s the way that I remember the colour order:
2011 – One WHITE snowflake.
2012 – Two YELLOW stars.
2013 – Three RED points on the maple leaf.
2014 – A GREEN four-leaf clover.
2015 – Five BLUE Olympic rings.
For me, this works as a memory aid. The colours repeat for the next five years. This year, 2016, is the year of the snowflake. Queens are marked white, just as they were 5 years ago, in 2011. By the way, if you have trouble subtracting 5 onto 2016 and getting 2011, reminding you of the ‘1’ white snowflake, you can probably remember that one white snowflake has 6 sides, matching the year 2016.
Finally, if you are thinking of painting your own queens, it’s perhaps best learnt by watching someone else. Here’s a short YouTube video clip: