Drone Male Honey Bee (Role and Mating Behaviour)

Drone bees are male honey bees. The scientific name for honey bees is Apis. Honey bees form a small percentage of the various known species of bees and have sub-categories like Apis mellifera, Apis cerana, etc.

Can You Spot Drone Bee In A Crowd?

A drone bee looks like a larger version of the average male worker bee. Their eyes are much larger than those of the rest of their ilk, and so is their body size. They have a round shape and a box-shaped stomach. But even with a stout and heavy body, the drone bees are fast fliers because they need to catch up with the queen bee in flight. Are you wondering why it needs to do so? We would let you know, for sure.

You could possibly describe the drone bees as the “lazybones” in the world of highly active bees. They don’t fetch food for the colony, they can’t feed without help from worker bees, they don’t play a role in building honeycombs; in short, they don’t do much of anything.

What Do Drone Bees Do, If Anything At All?

Drone bees are fascinating creatures. They are not eulogized like the worker bees or the queen bee. But drone bees play a very important role. The main job of the drone bee is to mate with a receptive unfertilized queen bee. The queen bee might not necessarily belong to the same hive. 

The virgin queen bees fly to the drone congregation areas. These areas are further than what most drones can fly to. So, the mating usually happens with a drone of another hive. 

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Drone Bees – Seeing The Light Of The Day

The birth of a drone bee is another example of nature’s wonders. And how is that? Here’s how.

  1. The queen lays the unfertilized drone eggs in the hive
  2. There are designated large cells for this in the hive
  3. The eggs receive their genetic components from their mom – the queen

However – surprise, surprise! Drones don’t have a daddy. This is because drones hatch from unfertilized eggs that don’t require a male bee. But drones do have maternal grandfathers. These males had fertilized the drones’ mom’s eggs. 

  1. The larvae enjoy a royal diet – the protein-rich royal jelly that the worker bees bring to them.
  2. After some days, the diet changes to honey and pollen. These make up the “bee bread.”
  3. And after a month, the larvae hatch.

Getting Down To Business – The Mating Time

While the primary task of the drone bee is to mate with a virgin queen bee, its purpose of living is also much the same. Because, for drone bees, death closely follows their successful mating act.

Once the queen bee flies into the drone congregation area, the hovering drone bees (numbering several thousand) would literally make a “bee”line for her, getting attracted by both visual and olfactory clues. 

You might be thinking – why doesn’t the queen mate with a drone of her own hive? That would save her the trouble of flying to these drone congregation areas. 

The answer is – by mating with a drone of the same hive, the queen will end up with diploid larvae. These are eggs with the same genes. And the resultant hatching would produce a drone and not a worker. But a depletion in the number of workers is a cause for concern to the hive. So, the other worker bees end up consuming these larvae and help in recycling the protein.

However, it’s not the “last man (read drone) standing” that gets to mate. The drones do not fight it out among themselves to decide who would mate. They try to fly as close to the queen as they can. The ones that reach the closest are the lucky ones.

Anything between 10 and 20 drones would mate with the queen during her mating periods. The act happens within half an hour of her flight. And it is a mid-air activity during flying, 10-40 meters adobe the ground.

Why Do Bees Die After Mating?

Mating is the last thing that the male drone bee does. Once the process is over, its genitalia is torn from its body due to the force with which he releases his semen. The mating process is over within 5 seconds. The dead male drone falls to the ground. So, the average lifespan of drones doesn’t extend beyond a few weeks or maybe 90 days at max.

It’s All Over!

A drone bee that mates successfully with the queen bee dies immediately after mating. But the drones that are not successful in mating don’t lead long lives either. In the hives, the tussle between the drone bees vs worker bees is always in favor of the latter. 

The worker bees throw out the drone bees every autumn. The drone bees don’t contribute to food sourcing but only to its consumption. Hence, they become a burden on the food resources. And the resources are not plentiful in winter. The poor drone bees die due to exposure or hunger. In the next spring, new drone bees appear – and the cycle continues.

Why Does The World of Bees Need Drone Bees?

Drone bees might not sweat it out like the ubiquitous worker bees. But, they play a very important role. And that is, to ensure the arrival of the progeny and carry the lineage forward. Because unmated queens would continue to produce only drones which would ultimately wipe out the colony.

The queen bee mates with drones from different hives to ensure a more diverse sperm selection. This also ensures genetic diversity by widening the pool and makes way for the progeny to be stronger and more resilient. This also strengthens the hive.

The drones don’t simply eat and laze out. They are not only in the lookout for mating opportunities. While they might not forage for food or help in protecting the young, they do play a role in keeping the hive well-ventilated. Flapping their wings helps in doing this.

Can Drone Bees Sting?

No, the drone bees can’t sting. They have no role to play in protecting the young or the hive in general. So, the drone bees are born without stingers.

So, the next time you see a bulky and large-eyed bee buzzing around, don’t fret. It’s a harmless male drone. It is possibly trying to out-fly its peers to reach the queen bee. It will die once it’s done with the mating. But it will fulfill its responsibility – that of carrying forward the bee lineage.