In the matriarchal bee society, there are few males. Each hive only maintains a few hundred drones, or male bees, in contrast to the tens of thousands of female bees in the hive. And they aren’t expected to do much.
Drones do not collect food, make wax or take care of the young. They do not attend to the queen in the hive. They also can’t sting. There is really only one thing they do: mate with virgin queens. In fact, the authors of The Beekeeper’s Handbook refer to drones as flying gametes.
The Drone Life
Like all bees in the colony, drone eggs are laid in wax cells. However the cells are slightly larger than the cells in which worker bees are laid. When the larvae hatch, they are fed a modified “bee bread” that contains larger quantities of pollen and honey than the bee bread fed to worker bees. When it is time to cap the larvae to allow for metamorphisis, the worker bees cap the cells with a bullet-shaped cap that is readily distinguishable from the convex cap of the worker brood. Drones are the last to emerge from their cells, taking 24 days to become an adult.
About six days after emerging from the cell, drones will begin to take flights away from the hives to look for virgin queens. Usually they fly on windless sunny afternoons. Swarms of drones will gather together in drone-congregating areas and will pursue a queen when detected. Unfortunately for them, drones that are successful in mating die immediately after mating as their genitals are left in the queen.
Drones are larger and heavier than worker bees and can be mistaken for queen bees, although they are usually smaller than queens. In addition, the abdomen on a drone is rounded while it comes to a point in queens. Drones do not contain a stinger as this develops from an egg-laying structure. Drone eyes are twice the size of worker or queen eyes allowing for excellent vision when searching for a virgin queen. Their very short tongues prohibit them from gathering nectar.
Normally, animals are diploid, or carry two sets of chromosomes: one set from the mother and the second set from the father. However, queen bees can choose to lay either fertilized eggs or unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs are diploid and become female worker bees, while unfertilized eggs become drones. Because they hatch from unfertilized eggs, drones are haploid and carry only set of chromosomes; that of the queen. This means that the sperm produced by the drone will also only pass on the queen’s genes.
Drones are dispensible
Female workers have no qualms about dumping males. When there is a dearth in nectar, the worker bees will remove drone brood and adult drones by dumping them out of the hive. In the fall, adult drones and any remaining drone brood are kicked out of the hive while only females remain in the hive to overwinter.
Female bees give new meaning to the words, “use them and abuse them!”
Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2015 April A to Z Challenge! My theme for this year: Honeybees