Marking Drones:  and Hornets

A marking kit comprising of disks, resin glue, cocktail sticks, holding jig and damp pad will be needed. The jig is easily made using scraps of timber, polystyrene or other suitable material. The marking kit allows 500 drones to be marked providing a blank disk, 0 by default, is used Allowing for a 2% loss in disks during the marking process due to dropping or blowing away this leaves a total of 490 marked. As an alternative coloured marking pens could be used say one colour, white maybe as it is the brightest, for queens and the other colours for drones from four different colonies.

   Drone Movement Survey


Drones are known to move around the environment in order to maintain a genetic diversity within honey bee populations. It is said that they will ‘Bed & Breakfast’ in colonies other than their birth colony so the object of this project is to observe where they move to both within an apiary and into the wider environment.


This project should be carried out during the active season when there are a significant number of drones available. Drones in the selected hives can be marked over a four week period, say up to three sessions.

Maximising Marking & Recording:

To be effective a large number of drones need to be marked with the maximum number of beekeepers being made aware of their presence and on how to report sightings.

To maintain accurate record keeping numbered disks can be used to mark the drones. This makes this project an ideal opportunity to train new or less experienced beekeepers in marking bees. This should, after some practice, give them the confidence to mark their own queens. This project can therefore be a useful training for association bee training as new beekeepers can practice marking and be given an interesting project to fire up a willingness to mark bees.

Colony selection:

Select a strong, well-tempered colony that will produce many drones. A frame of drone brood comb or foundation could be inserted four weeks before the marking sessions start to assist in easier drone collection.


1. Select one hive for the project.

2. Prepare the kit before selecting drones.

3. A jig as pictured secures the glue pot and marking tools.

4. Place a few, say 5 to 10, numbered disks in a honey jar lid as they tend to blow away. Turn them number side up.

5. Collect a drone for marking. They should be those who were born in the colony, so select drones emerging from the brood or as young as possible i.e. the very fluffy ones. They are best picked up by the wings with the right hand and then held in the left hand by the head and thorax, or the legs for marking. (Pictured) If you are left-handed reverse these instructions. It is best carried out with bare fingers and thumbs, but if you wear gloves this procedure can be carried out effectively providing they are thin and tight fitting.

6. Use the stub end of a cocktail stick and touch the surface of the glue to pick up a drop. Avoid immersing the stick. Nb. The red end goes in the jig, the glue on the other end.

7. Place a drop of glue on the drones’ thorax.

8. Take the pointed cocktail stick and dab the point onto the damp pad.  

9. Pick up the marking disk with the point of the cocktail stick. If the point is dry it is difficult to pick up a disk.

10.  Apply the disk to the thorax number side up and return the drone to the colony.

As drones are marked make a record of the colour and number used and the colony number.

Setting up a production line:

   If there are a lot of beekeepers doing this there is a tendency to trip over each other, so here are some suggestions:

It has been found best to have two people specifically allocated the task of manipulating the colony. These should be experienced beekeepers that have already been trained or are confident in these procedures. As the colony can be open for sometime the use of cover clothes is recommended. How you then set up the production line depends on whether you are using it for a training exercise or just participating in the project.

 For training beekeepers:

    Appoint an experienced marker to oversee the marker station. Select two students at a time to select and pick up drones. The colony manipulators can advise as required during this procedure. The drone is then taken by the student to the marking station, marked and then returned to the colony. Each student should select and mark at least three drones.

For maximising the rate of marking:

   Delegate one person to apply glue and one person to place the disk. Three people are then delegated to pick off drones, hold them take them to the glue, then the disk station and when marked return them to the colony.

   These systems can be refined and altered according the needs of the session.


   If you participate in this project tell your neighbouring beekeepers what you are doing and ask them report any sightings and the colony status if possible, see below.

   During subsequent visits make a note of where marked drones are seen. If they are not in their parent colony make a note and observe the status of the colony in respect of the queen. I.e. Is the queen present. If so is she old, young, preparing to swarm, drone layer, etc. Another factor that may be of interest is the direction of the hive entrance if your colonies are facing in different directions and especially if set out in ‘Buckfast squares’.

If you carry out this project DARG would be very interested in your data.

Just let the Secretary or Chairman know your results.


The plunger marking cage is vital for marking hornets. They don’t like being confined but fly off quickly on release.  

They are easily captured feeding on open bait.

They can also be captured easily but not marked (!) using the clips cage.  Useful for later accurate identification.