Here’s a riddle for you:
I have no father, and only one grandfather.
If I have any children, they will all be girls,
but my grandchildren can be boys or girls.
Who am I?
Answer: I’m a boy bee, also known as a drone bee.
A female bee is made when a queen egg that has been fertilized with drone sperm is allowed to develop into a bee. This bee is almost always a worker bees, though rarely, a new queen can develop. Female bees have 32 chromosomes, 16 from mother and 16 from the father.
An egg laid by either 1) a drone laying worker or 2) an unfertilized queen will produce a drone bee. Because drones bees don’t have a father, they have only 16 chromosomes, and they are all from their mother. This makes them haploid.
Drones look different from queens and workers. They have big eyes, big blunt bodies, no stinger, and are somewhere between queen and worker in size. They are friendly and docile, and cannot sting.
Each type of bee have their own jobs. Queens are in charge and lay eggs that will become future workers; there is only one in a hive. Workers work at all the tasks that needs done in the hive and there are tens of thousands of them in a hive. The workers cover the cleaning and child care, to guarding the hive and foraging, they do it all. Except for the one thing they can’t do,they can’t have sex with the queen to fertilize her eggs. That’s what the drones are for. There are hundreds to thousands of them in a hive. They make up about 5% of the hive population during foraging season a their main job is to fertilize queen eggs.
Lots of people will tell you that all drones do is eat, sleep, sit around, and have sex. Some of you are shaking your heads, thinking Just like every other man. But is that really? Or are we humanizing the drones? Or minimizing their contributions? It turns out that the lives of drone bees are not as idyllic and lazy as many people assume. But then, life rarely is as it appears.
The life of a drone goes something like this:
The first 3 days are spent as an egg, then the next 6 ½ days are spent as a larva, and finally 14 ½ are spent as a pupa. At the 24 day mark, the drone is now an adult. Newly emerging adult drone bees send their first 3-4 days begging food from nurse bees. While it is true that drone bees will continue to eat the nectar and pollen brought in by worker bees for the rest of their short lives, they also help the worker bees in the hive maintain a desirable incubation temperature for developing and emerging bees, and they are better at it than the worker bees..
At 14 days of adulthood another job is added. The drones become sexually mature and begin leaving the hive during the day to spend time in drone congregation areas. Drone congregation areas (DCA’s) are areas where drone bees gather. When a drone leaves the hive, it will visit these areas, sometimes several of them in a day. These areas are 100 – 650 feet in diameter, and 50-130 feet above the ground. Often, these areas are used year after year, though why that is is unknown. (This is truly amazing when you realize that drone bees do not live through the winter, so how do they know where to go?) While drones have been shown to travel as far as 4 ½ miles to reach a DCA, drones prefer DCA’s close to their hive. DCA’s usually have hundreds to several thousand drones visiting at a time, and the drones come from as many as a thousand hives. It is only in these DCA’s that drone bees pursue queen bees. So far, it all sounds like a pretty cushy life, but this is where it starts to suddenly get a bit darker for many drone bees.
When a queen is fully developed and fertile, she will leave her hive on her nuptial or wedding flight, and makes her way to a DCA. While in the DCA, only the healthiest, fastest, and brightest drones will be able to catch her to mate.This means that only the best drones will be able to pass on their genetic material. The queen will mate with roughly 10-20 of the drones on one of her mating flight while it is said they only have one flight queens have been known to make up to three mating flights to gather enough semen. The semen collected will fertilize all the fertile eggs she will ever lay in her lifetime.
Now here’s for the really dark part for the drone bees. During the act of mating, their genitals are ripped from their bodies, killing them. For the next male to mate, it will have to remove the genitals of the previous male that mated with the queen.
And if that isn’t bad enough, when resources run low the drone bees are forced from the hive, and their developing bodies are pulled from the cells they are in and pushed from the hive. It usually happens at the end of summer, or the end of fall at the latest. This makes the drone lifespan the shortest of the three classes of bees.
In case you are wondering, The queen lives for 3-4 years on average. Worker bees vary at 1 ½ – 2 months in the spring, summer and early fall and 4-5 months if born in the late fall. Drones lives much shorter adult lives at 2wks to 4 months, with 2 months being the average.
So, in the end, the drone really has a kind of sad and short life that one can’t really shake a stick at. His part to play if rather crucial but in time of urgency, he will become a needed sacrifice for the greater good of the hive. We are sure that many men don’t envy that idea and we don’t think anyone else really should either. Yet, this is what is means to survive as a bee and we are sure that these incredible organisms to cherish every bit each member of the hive has to offer. What are your thoughts? Don’t you think it would be kind of scary if we lived like bees? Share your thoughts and whatnot with us either here in the comment section, on our facebook page, or on instagram with #MoreBees.