Drone honey bees are the males of the species. They are produced when a queen places an egg into a cell created exclusively for drones. Once they are positioned in these cells, they are not fertilized by the queen; fertilized cells will become female workers.
Drone bees have a limited role within the colony. Their primary purpose is to mate with queens from other colonies, but they also aid in thermoregulation during times of temperature extremes. They’re very likely to be evicted by the worker bees at the end of the active season.
How Are Drone Bees Created?
Female worker bees are tasked with creating cells in the comb where the queen’s eggs will be placed. The eggs in these cells eventually become larvae, pupae, and then adult bees. The queen ultimately decides the sex of her offspring by choosing whether or not to fertilize the eggs.
But it is the workers who design the shape of the cell to accommodate either a female or a male bee. The cell for a male bee is larger because the adult male will eventually grow to be bigger than adult females, and therefore need more space to develop.
What Is the Lifespan of a Drone Bee?
It takes about 24 days for an egg to become an adult. After reaching adulthood, a drone’s sole purpose is to find a mate, and if he does successfully mate with a queen, the drone will die. If no mate is found, the drone will return to the colony. However, since drones don’t serve much of a purpose in the hive, there’s little reason to keep them around and waste precious food resources on them.
Workers will typically starve unmated drones once they return to the hive. The drones that do survive will be expected to participate in helping to keep the hive warm during the winter. Drones live, on average, for eight weeks.
The Lifecycle of a Drone Bee
Just like their female sisters, male drones will be fed by nurses once their eggs hatch. During the first few days of life, their diet will consist only of royal jelly. Later, they will receive what is known as “bee bread” – a combination of nectar and pollen.
After just five days of feeding, the larvae have grown enough to be capped in their cells. Worker bees feed the larvae one last big meal and then seal off the cells with beeswax. Once sealed the bees will spin a cocoon and develop the features of an adult bee. It will take drones about 6.5 days to develop into an adult, and then they’ll chew their way out of the waxed-capped cell.
As adults, drones’ role is to fly out of the hive and transfer their genes to queens from other colonies. If they don’t find a mate, they will come back to the hive, but the workers don’t really want them around since they don’t do any of the jobs needed to maintain the hive. If they do last through the winter, they’ll take part in helping to keep the hive warm through the process of thermoregulation.
Can Drone Bees Sting?
Drone bees do not have a stinging apparatus. Since their primary function is to mate, there’s no reason for them to have a stinger. They are not tasked with protecting the hive – that is up to the female workers, so a stinger would serve no purpose for a drone.
How Do Drone Bees Size Differ?
The bee that is largest in size is the queen. Her length is between 18 and 22 millimeters. Drones are larger than female workers but slightly smaller than the queen. On average, most of the bees in a hive are about 12mm-15mm long, but the male bees are larger than the female workers. Drones have bigger abdomens than either workers or queens, and they also have larger eyes.
Drone Bee Mating Behaviour
When honey bees mate, they do so about 10-40 meters above ground, while in flight. The entire process takes less than five seconds.
The drone will approach the queen in the air and straddle her with his thorax above her abdomen. He’ll use his six legs to grasp onto her, and then evert his endophallus (which was previously inverted) into her sting chamber. The sting chamber must be opened; if not mating will not be successful.
With his endophallus everted and in the queen’s sting chamber, the drone becomes paralyzed, flips backwards, and then ejaculates. Ejaculation is literally explosive – the semen bursts through the sting chamber and into her oviduct. But while that is happening, the tip of the drone’s endophallus breaks off inside the queen, and as it breaks off, it ruptures the drone’s abdomen and he dies.
Queens mate with an average of 12 drones – and up to 40 of them. When a new partner approaches the queen that has just mated, the new drone removes the previous suitor’s endophallus tip. But if mating is successful, he will lose his as well.
Why Do They Bees Mate in the Air?
Once drones are mature and leave the hive to mate, they fly to spots called drone congregation areas. Drones select an area that’s close to their own hive, but queens travel further – perhaps a way to avoid mating with drones from their own colony.
From several hundred to as many as 30,000 drones will be waiting for the queen to arrive, and when she does, they will follow her around in an attempt to mate. The drone has to be quick and agile to get to the queen, so it’s no wonder mating occurs mid-flight – there’s no time to waste, tons of competition, and the drones have to catch up with the queen as she’s travelling.
Do Drone Bees Die After Mating?
When a drone bee mates with a queen, his ejaculation is so forceful that the tip of his endophallus (the inner sac of the penis) explodes. That force causes his abdomen to rupture and he dies quickly after the rupture occurs. However, if he simply everts his endophallus into the queen and doesn’t ejaculate, he will survive.
Do Drone Bees Have Roles Beyond Mating?
Mating is the primary role of the drone. While he may be called upon to help out with thermoregulation, he doesn’t serve any other function within the hive. Female workers are the ones who perform all of the tasks, such as cell cleaning, nursing broods, attending the queen, making comb, placing bee bread in larval cells, undertaking, capping the larval cells, and then ultimately becoming foragers.
Are Drone Bees Gatherers?
Only the female workers are foragers (the bees that fly out of the hive to gather pollen and nectar and then fly it back home). They “graduate” to the forager role after they’ve performed a series of tasks within the hive. The drone’s primary role is to mate, and he does not typically do any work to maintain the functioning of the hive.
How Do Drone Bees Regulate the Temperature of the Hive?
In order to rear a healthy brood, honey bee workers must ensure that the hive maintains a temperature of approximately 94°F. If the hive becomes too hot, developing bees may have deformed body parts or exhibit strange behaviours – ultimately leading to shorter lives. Keeping the temperature at an optimal level also speeds up brood-rearing.
The temperature must also be maintained in order for bees to begin their first flight, and in the winter, extremely cold temperatures could be deadly for the colony. Finally, a warm hive helps the bees to destroy pathogens when they develop fevers.
To heat up the hive, some of the worker bees become heater bees. These bees rapidly contract their flight muscles, which raises their internal temperatures. When the brood needs to be warmed, these heater bees press their bodies against pupae in capped cells or they can also crawl into a nearby cell and radiate heat.
For warming the hive during the winter, worker bees surround the queen and conserve energy by decreasing their internal temperatures. Surrounding these bees are many more bees to make a cluster. The bees on the outer part of the cluster will raise their internal temperatures to keep the inner parts of the cluster warm. They will reverse positions eventually. Contracting their muscles to maintain heat depletes energy, so other worker bees will deliver food to the bees in the cluster to increase their endurance. If a drone bee is still a member of the colony during the cold months, he will be required to take his place in the cluster.
During the summer months, if the hive becomes too hot, drones and other worker bees will help to cool their home by fanning their wings and using water to evaporate the heat.
How Common Are Drone Bees?
In a typical hive of the Apis mellifera bee, there will be one queen, thousands of female workers, and about 200 male drones. Wild bee hives can contain up to 20,000 bees in total, while hives managed by beekeepers can contain up to 80,000 bees. Regardless of the total number of bees in the hive, each caste will likely be represented by similar proportions.
Drones are most likely to be seen outside of the hive during their mating flights. At those times, as many as 30,000 drones will be seen at a drone congregation area.
What Is a “Fatherless” Drone Bee?
All drone bees are “fatherless” because they hatch from unfertilised eggs. But a drone does have a grandfather since his mother (the queen) was once an egg that was fertilized with sperm.
Are Drones Expelled From the Colony After Summer?
If an adult drone bee doesn’t have a successful mating session, he’ll fly back to the hive, but he won’t necessarily be welcomed there. He doesn’t participate in maintaining the hive, and only sometimes will he contribute to keeping the temperature at an optimal level.
Because he’s relatively useless, the worker bees don’t want to waste many resources on him. When fall arrives and foraging slows down, the worker bees may try to starve the drones to weaken them. Once they have been weakened, the workers will take the bees outside. There, they will die of starvation or of hypothermia.