The Role of the Drone

When you are a new beekeeper, it’s a bit confusing what type of bees are there at first, especially differentiating drones from queens, or even workers. We all know that the bees are mostly females. However, there are “men” in the hives called the drones. Interestingly, the drones are necessary for the success of any hive. 

The Birth of a Drone

The queen decides how to fertilise an egg before laying depending on the size of the cell built by the worker bees. Generally, drone cells are larger than those of a worker bee cell. A drone egg is the only type that can be laid by either a queen or a worker since it is not fertilised. They only receive genetic components from the queen. Once a drone egg is laid, the worker bees will feed it with royal jelly for the first 2-3 days. This gives them enough protein to start their development. On the 4th day, worker bees will start to feed them with bee bread, a mixture of honey and pollen. In 24 days, the drones’ development through egg, larvae and pupa will be complete and hatch. 

Drone Cell

How to recognise a drone cell? It’s easier than you think! Drone cells are larger in diameter and the cap is higher and more rounded at the top. Beekeepers tend to pay a lot of attention to the drone brood as the varroa mites preferably feed on drones, as identified overseas. Drones also take longer to hatch and to be capped and is usually shaped like a bullet.

Drone’s Anatomy

How do you spot a drone? 

Drone’s do look unique compared to the worker bees. Their most stand out feature is that they have larger eyes. He looks a bit stubby and boxy, has a thick abdomen and long legs. His wings are also very large and covers his stomach, which makes the long legs a bit hard to spot! His head is very round which emphasises their big eyes. 

Drone don’t have stingers! As the drone’s purpose is to mate with the queen, his sex organ is barbed and will stick out in flight when mating with the queen. This enables the queen to have a deposit of at least 50 million sperm cells. After the process, they fall to their deaths. 

Importance of Drones

Most beekeepers are not keen on keeping drones in the hive and that is reasonable. Drones do not collect nectar, pollen or even produce honey. They do live an easy life, much like a king of the hive if you will. They get fed by worker bees much like how the queen is fed. Drones do entail that your hive is a strong and healthy hive. The hive is healthy enough to accommodate the so-called “kings”. Beekeepers may look at drones as ineffective and lazy bastards, however, if you do look at it in a broader perspective, they do serve a helping hand in cases such as cooling the hive. When beekeepers see drones during spring, this means its swarming season. 

The drones have a unique purpose in the hive. The drone’s primary focus is to mate with the queen. They live in the hive during spring and summer season, where the queen flies to find a mate. Drones also leaves the hives to fly in mating swarms where they release pheromones to attract queen bees. 

Drones provide your hive with genetic diversity. This is highly essential for the hive to fight off diseases. A queen will only mate once in her early life – she will mate with drones from various colonies that broadens the genetic chromosome that she can carry. The greater the genetic diversity collected by the queen, the greater the chance of the colony of surviving. 

Living in the Hive

While you may think that drones have a posh life, worker bees do get fed up serving them. During autumn season, as foraging becomes less of a daily activity, worker bees evict the drones out of the hive due to becoming another mouth to feed without any contribution. The worker bees will stop providing food for the drones and kick them out of the hive, which leads to their death. 

Worker bees can be brutal, don’t they? However, drones do play a vital part in the honey bee ecosystem. When you see them, don’t fret! They do bring a good sign for your hive.