Drones, the male bees

The boys in the hive are called drones and, without sounding too smug about it, they don't do very much: the bees that clean and guard the hive, that feed the larvae, build the colony and forage for food and water are all female.  The Queen bee will lay either a fertilised, or unfertilised egg in each cell, with the unfertilised eggs becoming drones. The Queen lays drone eggs in slightly bigger cells that have been made for the purpose as drones are larger than female worker bees. As a result, drone brood looks bumpy so it's easy to spot in the hive.

Once a beekeeper sees drone brood in the the hive they know that the colony has its eye on the future and is preparing for the season ahead and 'reproducing'.  Colonies 'reproduce' by a swarm of bees flying off to set up another colony - that's how bee populations grow, by colonies splitting and multiplying - and the drones are needed to mate with the new virgin Queens that emerge from each new colony.

Drones are bigger than female honey bees and have a few differences that help them to fulfill their role to mate with virgin Queens.  They have very big eyes to help them see a virgin queen approaching and no sting - instead they have a willy...

In a hive there are around 2,000 drones at the height of the season and although they have no tasks to do inside they do help the atmosphere and keep the colony a little calmer. However that's during the season when they're needed, In autumn it's a different story when they're no virgin Queens to mate:then the workers are focused on surviving and don't want to be feeding drones that have outlived their use.  So the workers bit their legs and wings and throw them out of the hive leaving them to die in the cold.  Harsh. But the colony's survival is paramount.

Emily AbbottComment