Queens and worker bees get all of the attention. But, what about the drone bee? We don’t hear about these honey bees quite as much, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t play an important role within the hive. Drones lead a fascinating life. Even their death is quite extraordinary!
Drones have one primary purpose within the hive – to mate with a queen. They leave the colony on trips to find Drone Congregation Areas (DCA). Here, they buzz around waiting for a queen to fly within the confines of the DCA. If she decides to fly through this zone, there is a chance that the drone bee can mate with her, fulfilling his life purpose.
Drones have competition, though. DCAs often contain thousands of drones who have the same exact mission. While they won’t fight over her, drones will compete with each other to see who can get the closest to the queen for mating. During an average mating flight, the queen will mate with between 10 and 20 drones.
More than Just Mating
While the worker bees hold many jobs, it can be easy to think that the drones have it easy. After all, mating with the queen doesn’t sound all too bad. But, drones do so much more for the hive that just help the queen lay more eggs. They contribute to genetic diversity!
The more drones the queen is able to mate with from different colonies, the greater the genetic diversity there is within her hive. This means that the bees within the hive are better able to fight diseases that could potentially destroy them.
In addition to the reproductive benefits they provide, drones play another important role in the hive. They help the workers maintain proper temperature conditions within the hive. In order to keep the hive cool, worker bees will collect water and bring it back to the hive. Then, workers and drones will flap their wings vigorously to create a cooling effect that will regulate the temperature.
The Lifecycle of a Drone
Bee hives are complex systems. One prime example of this is how drones are formed. When the hive determines it needs more drones in the colony, they will build larger cells. This clues the queen in to the fact that she better lay unfertilized eggs (drones) in those cells.
Drone cells are unique compared to those of a typical worker bee. For one, they are larger in size to accommodate the drone bee. Drones are generally the same weight as the queen, but have a shorter, stockier build. They have larger eyes than the other bees in the hive, as well as larger wings.
After the queen lays an unfertilized egg in a cell, it moves to the larva stage. Nurse bees will take care of the larvae, feeding them diets of royal jelly for the first few days. After this period of development, they will start on their diet of yummy bee bread, which is a mixture of honey and pollen. In about 24 days, they will emerge from the pupae stage and become full, adult drones.
Here’s where things get interesting.
As we mentioned, the role of the drone is to mate with a queen and contribute to the genetic diversity of the hive. Unfortunately, in most cases he will die very soon after mating.
But, the reality is that most drones won’t have the chance to mate with a queen. What happens to these bees? We’re sorry to say, but their fate isn’t much better.
Once the busy season is over, foraging decreases and food supplies become even more precious within the hive. Because drones don’t contribute much to the rest of the hive, they become more of a nuisance and an extra mouth to feed. In most cases, they will be kicked out of the hive and left to fend for themselves. However, they are usually already hungry and succumb to starvation or the elements.
Like all the members of the honey bee colony, drones are interesting little creatures. Although they have a reputation for being the “laziest” bees in the hive, the colony wouldn’t be able to survive without them.
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