In a honey bee colony, there are several castes. These include the Queen bee, the drone bee and the worker bee. Each caste has a very special and specific job, and we are going to explore the job description of the drone bee.
Honey bee drones are the mysterious male honey bees of the hive. They are the ONLY MALE honey bees. There are also very few drones that exist in any given bee hive. In a colony of say 15,000 honey bees, there may be only be 30 drones, and there is a reason why.
We are going to tell you all about the life of the honey be drone, what their important job is in the colony, and why there are so few drones in a bee hive.
Honey Bee Drones | What Is A Drone Bee
Drone bees. They can come and go from the hive as they please and they have zero participation in hive maintenance or foraging and they obviously don't lay eggs as they are the only males of the colony. Everything seems great, that is, until the worker bees decide they don't need them anymore.
We are going to cover a number of topics in this article about drone bees and they include:
- What a honey bee drone is
- What the job of a drone is
- How to identify a honey bee drone
What is a honey bee drone?
What is a honey bee drone? A honey bee drone is the male offspring of the Queen bee. They have one very important function, and that is to mate with a Queen from another hive. Once they have achieved that goal they instantly (and explosively) die.
A honey bee Queen can choose to fertilize an egg or not. The way a Queen decides whether or not to fertilize an egg is based on the diameter of the wax cell she is laying into.
You see, when drone brood are needed, worker bees build drone cells that are about 17% larger than normal (5.2mm is the size for a regular worker bee cell whereas 6.2mm is the size for a drone cell).
When the Queen bee approaches the drone cell to lay her egg into, she measures the cell with her forelegs. If the cell is large, she will not fertilize the egg and it will become a drone bee.
Drones are larger than worker bees so they need larger cell diameters. When the Queen sees these larger cells, she knows that more drones are needed and lays accordingly.
Once the drone eggs are laid into the larger drone cells and are capped by the worker bees, they can also be identified as drone cells as they are capped with a bulge; an almost bullet-shaped capping. They are now known as capped drone brood.
Seeing these developing drone bees (drone brood) in their cells are very obvious when viewing the hive frame.
Here is an example of a larvae in one of our backyard frames. This was probably a Queen developing.
What is the job of a drone bee?
Drone bees perform no other tasks in the hive other than to mate with a Queen bee. If the drone is successful in mating with a Queen, he will instantly die. Keep in mind, that the drone will not mate with the Queen of his own hive as he is her own offspring. He will mate with the Queen from another hive with whom he will encounter on her one mating flight.
Furthermore, since breeding is the only function of the drone bees, they are evicted from the hive before winter as mating only happens in the spring and summer months. To keep the drones alive through the winter, they would only consume that valuable honey which is needed to keep the hive alive. So bye bye drones!
When it is time to evict a drone bee, the worker bees will attack the drones, chew off their wings and leave them for dead at the front of the hive. Cruel, but as with all things related to the honey bee, the colony comes first.
How to identify a honey bee drone
The most distinguishing feature of a honey bee drone is that they are about 30% larger than worker bees (but not quite as large as the Queen, keep in mind). That, along with their very large eyes on top of their heads make drones stand out fairly obviously.
Drones do not defend the hive like worker bees, so they have no stingers.
Drones are also very loud when they fly. As a young boy, I recall my father bringing the occasional drone to the house and watching as they crawled on my arm. I do the same with my kids now as a fun way to talk about bees with them.
There is no fear of them being stung as drones have no stingers, and this does not harm the drone in any way. Just be sure you can properly identify a drone yourself before attempting to touch one.
Here is a photo of a drone who was injured outside one of our hives. Notice his huge eyes? Also, we love finding drones because they have no stingers. We can let them walk around on our hands and get to know them, and it doesn't harm them or us.
Drones in summary
To summarize everything about a drone bee;
- Drone bees come from the Queen bee's unfertilized egg
- Drone larvae are raised in larger cells with bullet-shaped caps
- Drone bees are the only male bees in the hive
- Drone bees are about 30% larger than worker bees, but are not quite as large as the Queen bees
- Drone bees have very large eyes on the tops of their head
- Drone bees have no stinger
- The only job of a drone is to mate with the Queen bee of another hive, which upon doing, he instantly dies
- Drone bees are only alive for mating seasons. Worker bees get rid of any drone bees before winter
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