Here is something you don’t see too often: otherwise healthy drone honeybees that have white eyes! Recently we ran into a colony that was full of white-eyed drones. One of our staff beekeepers, caught off guard, declared that he had discovered “zombie drones!” Actually, no, it does happen from time to time that healthy drone bees can be seen with the mutation of white eyes.
Why is it that only drones show the white-eyed mutation, but not the workers bees? The answer lies in how recessive genes work.
Among bees in a hive, drone bees are more apt to express mutations from recessive genes than other bees. A drone bee is unique and different from the two types of female bees (workers and queen bees) in that it is developed from an unfertilized egg. As a result, a drone bee has only one set of chromosomes – effectively only one parent. Therefore, with only one set of chromosomes, recessive genes can be expressed more readily without being overridden by a corresponding dominant gene.
These white-eyed drones appear perfectly normal; they move around the hive like other bees, eat honey, relax, and live an apparently normal drone bees’ life. Don’t be fooled, however. Their life is not normal. For them, there will never be any mating; no flights, no lying to drone congregation areas, nor looking for queens. These drones are more or less stuck inside the hive; because, due to their white eyes, they are blind.