Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Droning on...the downside of being male in the insect world!

There's been a lot of talk of drones lately in the news.  I don't think they were thinking of peace-loving bees, however.  But, if you are a male (drone) bee in the insect world, your future is bleak at this time of year.
The hive becomes anti drones!

With the first hint of cold temperatures, the female worker bees are getting the hive ready for the winter. It will be an all-girl's club for the winter months!  The drones are all kicked out.
The drones have been building up in numbers in the hive all summer long.  And, a healthy summer hive, in order to be healthy, MUST have at least 20% drones present.  But, come fall and the first hint of frost, that percentage drops to 0% for the winter months.

Bluntly put, drones are a drag on the hive's resources and efficiency.  Drones cannot feed themselves (or anyone else) and are entirely dependent upon the workers for feeding. They do none of the work of bringing in and storing nectar or pollen. They do not make honey. They do not lay or tend eggs or larvae or pupae. They just hang out in the hive, or fly to nearby drone mating fields and hang out there all summer long.  And, their presence in the hive tends to attract pests, Varroa mites in particular, that develop in drone cells as they mature into adults.

The only reason drones exist is to mate with a queen bee.  This is not done in the hive; mating occurs near the drone mating fields (perhaps 5 miles away) where the guys are all hanging out like lusty teenage boys.

The virgin queen that flies by has a pheromone that attracts them.  Then the drones that fly the fastest and highest to keep up with her majesty are the ones lucky enough to get to mate her in mid-air.  The prize for that, sadly, is once the deed is done (sperm sac passed to female), he explodes in mid-air and drops to the ground, dead as a doorknell.  Some reward, huh?  No cigarettes; no, "how was it for you?". Nothing!

So, it's doubly sad this time of year to see the workers kicking these poor remaining big eyed guys out of the hive.  If you look in front of the hives you see them; on their backs, with legs flailing in the air, as they either freeze or starve to death, whichever comes mercifully first.  They are no longer in the nice warm 93F degrees hive that their sisters are keeping warm by vibrating their thoraces (pl. of thorax) around the queen in the middle of the cluster.  They are no longer being fed by their sisters.
They are just thrown out of their house and sent packing to an early death.  I do feel badly for them. But, they've had a good life.  The process of the birds and the bees goes on, and the cycle of nature continues, cruel though it may sometimes appear to be.

Image from Encyclopaedia Britannica 

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