A Drone’s Love

Until this week,  drones, or male bees, seemed pretty worthless to me. They do not make honey. They don’t guard the hives. They don’t tend the young, seek nectar, produce wax or perform any visible service to the hive. They simply consume honey and mate with queens from other hives.

I was mystified when I noticed that beekeeping supply catalogs sell equipment designed to encourage a queen to lay drones. Why would a beekeeper want more drones larva among the worker larva? I, for one, wanted as many workers as possible.

Then, an experienced beekeeper told me that parasitic mites prefer to gnaw on drone larva than worker larva because drones spend more time incubating as larva. He rears drones until they are just about to emerge from their pupa (similar to moth cocoons) and then places them in the freezer. The cold temperatures kill the mites as well as the developing drones. That’s a huge benefit to the hive! Mites attach to the honeybee and suck it’s lifeblood from it, severely hampering their ability to function. You try working with a tick the size of your fist attached to your neck!

Okay, I thought, so drone larva and pupa may serve a sacrificial purpose for the hive. What about adult drones?

Yesterday, I read something about the adult drones that astoned me.  Drones from many hives will congregate in one area of the woods, waiting for a virgin queen to visit them. When she does so, they will hover around her and land on her. Once assuring themselves that she is a worthy mate, they will insert their mating apparatus in her. The act stuns the drone, who falls through the air, leaving some of his organs in the queen. He dies, unable to heal the gaping wound in his body.

What bravery! What sacrifice! Just like the worker bee dies when she stings a suspected invader, the drone gives his life in order to ensure that the bee population has a diverse genetic makeup.  His love is passionate and all consuming. I guess even drones are cool.

 

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About beewhisper

Christian, Mama, Wife, Gardener, Beekeeper
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3 Responses to A Drone’s Love

  1. Erin says:

    Hey, I saw the link to your blog on facebook! And I am wondering, do you keep bees? For the past year or so I have been dying to get bees, but we are moving next summer, so I figured I should just read up instead. Any suggested reading for a hopeful future beekeeper? How long have you had your bees, and were you successful at extracting their honey? (Sorry this is such a long comment!)

    • beewhisper says:

      Erin, I do keep bees! They are fascinating creatures. I can learn about them forever. This was my first year, and my hive did not do as well as I had hoped. We did not collect any honey as the bees had a slow start in the spring and then I had a baby in the middle of a drought and they ate all their honey stores! We’re praying that they last the winter. If not, I’ll have to buy another hive.

      There should be a beekeepers association in your area. If there is, join it. You’ll find great information there. The association in Delaware offers beginner’s classes as well as weekly meetings. Right now is when they often host these learning events. In fact, now is the best time to learn about bees, because you don’t have to work with them as well. Here are some good books:

      The Backyard Beekeeper http://www.amazon.com/Backyard-Beekeeper-Absolute-Beginners-Keeping/dp/1592531180
      The Hive and the Honey Bee
      The ABCs and XYZs of Beekeeping

      There are many more, but these will get you started. Let me know how it goes!

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