All You Ever Wanted to Know about a Drone Bee
A drone bee refers to a male honey bee and these develop from unfertilized eggs. Drone bees are physically distinct from queen bees and worker bees. Drones have eyes which are twice as big as the other two kinds of bees and they are bigger than the worker bees and smaller than the queen bees in terms of overall size.
While the drone is kind of stout and sturdy in appearance it has the ability to fly fast and even catch the queen in flight and this is useful during the mating season. This is important because the most important role of the drone is to mate with a queen when she enters the receptive mating period. The average life expectancy of a drone is only 90 days because the drone dies after intercourse. The drone’s genital organs are pulled out during the mating process and this results in the drone’s death. Despite the gory and seemingly tragic life cycle of a drone, it performs a critical function in helping the queen bee get to the point of producing honey. So, drones are critical to the natural process, and breeders focusing on raising honey bee queens make it a point to breed drones also.
Drones are distinct from worker bees in that they do not share the same functions. Drones are like highly specialized machinery in that they are used only for mating and are not a part of the hive construction, nursing of pollen gathering. Drones are not seen to demonstrate any nectar collection either. The only function in which worker bees and drones are seen to overlap is in maintaining a hive’s temperature. If the hive gets hot, all the bees move their wings to move the air and create a breeze and if the hive gets cold they generate warmth by shivering. So, the drone does help the collective community in this process.
A drone bee is not very useful for guarding the hive because it does not have a stinger. The worker bee along with the queen bee is able to scare away intruders with the threat of a potential sting whereas a drone can only buzz and annoy. Drones are known to fly around a lot in the early afternoons. It has also been observed that drones tend to congregate in an area although the rationale behind this is yet to be explained satisfactorily.
A drone seldom mates from a virgin queen from the same hive and drones tend to go from hive to hive. The mating happens in flight and this is one of the evolutionary demands that have led to the development of the large eyes on the drone.
Young drones are fed by worker bees while older drone bees have to find their own food. The drone bees have a complicated place in the bee community because while they are critical for the continuation of the species, they are the first to be tossed out a hive at times of shortage. In fall and winter when food supply dwindles, worker bees push out drones and those not able to fend for themselves starve and die.
The bee hive as a communal interaction and the interactions between the various classes of bees fascinates scientists and non-scientists alike. There is such order and pattern here that there seems to be a world to discover and yet there are perplexing incongruities that seem to not follow a rational patters. As we find out more about the life of the bees, we will come to understand the role of the drone bee also a lot better.