Much has been written about bees in general and the queen and workers in particular.
What we don’t read a lot about is the role of the drone within and without the hive.
Some people may know that the drone, especially if in large numbers , will be expelled from the hive when food stores are low. Most people know that the drone collects neither pollen nor nectar and is dependent on the worker bees to be fed. The drones are not to be classified as idle but as a fundamental and irreplacable member of the functioning unit known as the bee hive or the bee colony.
We hear about there being such a thing as a virgin queen and wonder how she then becomes fertile and commences her role as an extraordinary egg layer. There are claims that she can lay anything up to 1500 eggs a day Whether this is sustainable every day and whether the bee colony can actually provide the queen with the available egg cells needed I couldn’t say. I’ve never been in a position to see such fecundity. There may be researchers who have verified such figures in a scientific study at some university or research facility.
This article is concerned with the drones role-the primary role – they perform. If successful in this duty, the drone actually dies.
What sparked an interest in this topic were the occasions I would be inspecting bee swarms or hives in action and I would notice that there would be a variation in the coloration of the bees. Some would be a lighter shade and others would definitely be a darker bee , yet they were both within the same hive and all seemed to be part of one whole. They were all members of the same hive.This gave me a clue as to what may be going on. The same queen laid all the eggs yet some bees appeared to be a different specie.
So, what happens to the population of the colony to explain this apparent differentiation of species within the hive ?
Drone zones…that’s what.
Would you believe me when I tell you that drones from various hives in a particular area all ‘meet down at the park’ for a get- together. Strictly speaking, of course, the drones don’t hang out together and pass on the latest gossip. They are there for one purpose only.
That purpose is for the searching out, chasing and mating with virgin queens who also seem to know where to go in order to meet the necessary drones.
The drones actually spend their time circling an area such as a park or pasture or reserve waiting for queens who may enter the area.
The drones, upon spotting a queen, all chase at speed and attempt to mate with the queen. It goes without saying that the drones concerned have to be vigorous and the fastest drones are the ones usually that end up succeeding in catching the queen to mate with her . This coupling on the wing however means the loss of the male genitalia during the flight and hence the demise of the drone – their job done.
What is fascinating is the number of drones that succeed in mating with the queen. Each drone that succeeds has its quantity of semen stored within the queen along with many other semen deposits from other drones.
This is utilised by the queen over a two or three year period as she lays many different kinds of eggs. Knowing the sheer quantity of eggs laid by a queen, we gain an appreciation of the necessity for such a store of semen ready to be used over a long period. There will be no other mating flights for the queen.