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.