Drone Honey Bee

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Drone Comb

Because drones are some of the least appreciated honeybees among beekeepers, it follows that the frames of honeycomb that are set up to breed them would be equally under-appreciated.  A colony of bees will build honeycomb cells in two sizes, regular-size or drone-size.  Most natural honeycomb, and just about all “foundation” for sale by beekeeping supply companies is regular-sized, meaning that the brood that is raised will become worker bees.  After all, nearly all beekeepers prefer worker bees that make honey over so-called “worthless” drone bees that mainly consume honey.

Regardless of the efforts of the beekeeper, however, all beehives have a strong instinct to raise a certain percentage of drone honeybees, especially during the swarm season in the spring.  To rear new drones, the hive requires that some of the cells in the honeycomb be of the larger drone-sized variety.

Since it creates all of its own comb, a feral or top bar hive has no problem creating some drone-sized comb of it own, and adding it to the existing worker-sized comb that it already has.  A managed Langstroth beehive, however, often does not have an easy way to build drone-sized cells.  In this type of hive, the beekeeper provides all of the frames of honeycomb, which are nearly universally worker-sized.  As a result, the bees themselves have to improvise where and how they can construct drone comb given the limited space to do so.  Often the bees construct some makeshift drone comb between the boxes.  Or, if some old honeycomb is damaged or has a hole in it, the bees eagerly replace the damaged area with drone-sized comb.

Once in a while, a beekeeper runs into an old frame, which as a result of being heavily damaged and re-repaired by the bees, consists nearly entirely of this rebuilt drone comb.  These types of frames, one of which is pictured above, show up often in commercial beekeeping operations where frames are apt to be damaged by regular handling.  As a rule, commercial beekeepers dislike these frames and often discard and replace them as soon as they are discovered.

On the other hand, queen rearing outfits, such as Wildflower Meadows, love drone comb!  The more drone honeycomb, the more drones available, and the better the mating chances and better quality of the resulting queens.  At Wildflower Meadows, we like to make sure that our best colonies have at least two frames of drone comb to produce the maximum quantity of drones.  The frame pictured above, worthless to many beekeepers, is “drone gold” to us!

 

Drone Honeybees With White Eyes

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.

 

Drone Bee

Meet Mr. Drone

Imagine a honeybee that doesn’t collect nectar, doesn’t produce beeswax, doesn’t take care of the larva, doesn’t nurse the young bees, doesn’t protect the colony, and can’t even sting.  The drone honeybee’s sole purpose in life is to mate with a queen.  Notice the enormous eyes.  They come in handy for finding a suitable mate.

Interestingly, the drone honey bee never mates inside of a colony.  The drone leaves the colony for mating approximately six days after hatching. Drones normally fly in the afternoon, provided the weather is warm and sunny, with little or no wind.  When it is time to mate, a drone loads his huge body with honey, like a tanker, and heads out for flights of a mile or longer.  His destination: special areas called “drone congregation areas.”  Drone congregation areas are specific geographic locations where groups of drones wait for the arrival of virgin queen bees by detecting their pheromones.  A virgin queen will mate with ten to twenty drones, but the drone has only one mating event, which is both his first and last.  Shortly after mating with a queen, the drone dies.