Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Drone Honey Bee

Most people--well, it's probably more accurate to say women--laugh when they hear that the drone doesn't do anything to help around the home.

All the work of the honey bee hive is carried out by female workers.

These workers don't reproduce, that function belongs only to the queen.

This social community is the same as ants and I think termites as well.

But we can't discount the drone. He plays a very significant role and that is to carry the genetics of the bee forward as he mates with his queen.

Drones fly off from the hive in the afternoons and they meet in Drone Congregation Areas. These areas are known to the drones - we don't know why they are chosen or how they know where to go but chemical scents probably play a significant role. The important thing is that the queen knows too and she can find them when she does her mating flight.

The drones mate with the queen in mid air and once he latches onto the queen he rotates his body backwards which unfortunately causes a certain male appendage to snap and then he dies. But he has done the job he was born to do.

The queen will mate with about 6 drones before she returns to the hive.

She'll spend the rest of her life laying eggs, storing the sperm from her mating to last her whole life long. The sperm is stored in her spermatheca.

Drones have extra large compound eyes - the better to see the queen with. The drone has a tiny proboscis and cannot feed himself. The workers have a longer proboscis which they use to probe into flowers and the bottom of a honey comb cell.

Drones are also sting-less. Since they don't fill a role as guarding or protecting the hive, there's no need for a stinger or venom. Drones can be handled very nicely and safely.

Around the hive, the loudest buzzing in flight comes from the drones.

They will fly back and forth in front of the hive, just like the workers do, to orient themselves with the look of the hive so they can recognize it when returning.

He's the noisiest because he's the largest honey bee.

The queen is not so bulky in size, and has a long narrow abdomen.

I find the easiest way to recognize a done in flight, aside from the loud buzz, is by his really long back legs that hang down when he's in flight.

In the fall, the workers force any remaining drones out of the hive and won't let them back in. They can't afford the extra mouths to feed through the long cold winter. The drones then succomb to the cold and/or starvation and die.
(Photo - my queen at left with yellow paint marking her as a 2007 queen. The other bees are workers except for the one large bee in the centre which is a drone.

He may not do much around the hive, but you have to admit he's kind of cute.

Today was a sweaty laborious day. My Dad and brother-in-law helped me lug bags of sand and gravel back the long lane to the bee yard. The high ground the hive sits on needed a little building up on one side. I collected field stones to make a retaining wall and then we loaded up the area with the sand and gravel.

With all the rainy weather we'd been having, walking around the one side was dangerous - a ski slope of mud which I figured was an accident waiting to happen--definitely not something you want to happen when holding a frame full of bees!

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