The drone

General Information

The drone is responsible for the fertilization of the queen bee. It can fly up to 10-12 km away from the hive in order to reach the place where the queen bee is supposed to mate. The drone is attracted to this place by a pheromone produced by the queen. The purpose of this pheromone is to attract as many drones as possible, including the ones living in nearby hives. Around eight to ten male bees are needed in order to properly fertilize a queen. The fertilization is done during the nuptial flights that can take place during the same day or in different days.

The drone Immediately after mating, the drone dies because it loses its genitals. The queens' mating request a competition and a natural selection since only the fastest and the most vigorous drones succeed in mating with the queens. The drone does not produce honey. On the contrary it is a huge honey consumer. However, it helps the bee family by keeping warm to the sealed brood.

The drone has a wide abdomen and big eyes. They are unable to feed themselves. Thus, when summer is over and the honey is scarce within the hive, the worker bees stop feeding the drones and isolated them in the corners of the hive or they chase them away from the hive. The hives that do not have a queen bee receive them, but after mating with the queen they are doomed to die. If the colony has an old queen, the worker bees accept to hibernate with drones and all.

The males of the bee families are bigger and well-developed than the worker bees and even than the queen bees. As already said, their eyes are very big but its tusk is relatively short when compared to the one belonging to the worker bee. It uses its tusk only to receive food from the worker bees or to extract honey from the comb cells.

The drone's presence is important within a hive. The male bees keep the overall balance of the colony. Thus, it is not the same if a bee family has 300 or 3000 drones. It has been observed that the total lack of drones makes the worker bees more anxious and less productive. When bees destroy worker comb cells in order to create drone comb cells it means that the colony has to face an important disequilibrium which affects its development, productivity, vitality and immunity. There is a direct connection between the productivity of a bee colony and the number of its drones.

A drone's life

The drone hatches from unfertilized eggs; this kind of perpetuation is called parthenogenesis. It takes 24 days for a drone to hatch. Recently hatched drones are in a state of total relaxation inside the hive at temperatures reaching 350C. This is the period when their spermatozoids mature. This is why the worker bees feed and take care of them. In the eighth day of their lives the drones leave the hive for various scout flights. Now they feed themselves directly from the honey comb cells. They do not gather nectar, nor do they produce any honey. A drone usually lives between twenty and fifty days, depending the mating time. In well-developed families, the drones can be found only between the months of April and August. Their number varies between 1000 and 2100 individuals. At the end of July or August the drones are casted away from the hives.

The drones can also hatch from the unfertilized eggs of virgin or underdeveloped queen bees or from the eggs laid by worker bees. The drones that hatch from such eggs are much smaller but they can produce live spermatozoids.

Useful tips for proper drone growth

In order to obtain a valuable biologic material it is necessary to have enough vigorous drones which have been previously selected by the beekeeper.

For reaching the above objective, the beekeeper has to take a series of measures such as: having selected queen bees for the father-families (the bee colonies that give the selected drones) and devising a proper plan for drone growth in accordance with the queen bee development period and time of the year.

The drones need to be ready for mating by the time the first queen bees leave the hive for the nuptial flights. Thus, the beekeeper needs to start his/her drone growth activities with two or three weeks before beginning the activities for queen bee growth. This period of time coincides with fruit trees flowering.

It is not very difficult to calculate the time interval that has to separate the two apiary activities. Thus, the beekeeper has to take into consideration the time needed by a queen bee and a drone to turn from eggs into adult bees. Thus, the queen's metamorphosis cycle lasts for 16 days while the drone's for 24 days. Other figures to be taken into consideration are the ones referring to the time needed for sexual maturation. Thus, a queen bee needs seven to ten days to become sexually mature while a drone needs around ten to fourteen days to reach its fully reproductive capacity. The beekeeper must not forget about the time that the worker bees needed in order to prepare the comb cells for the laying egg process; this work requires two or three days.

For a successful drone growth, it is necessary to reduce as much as possible the hives of the father families. Thus, the queen bee is forced to lay as many drone eggs as it can, while the worker bees have to assure the thermal protection of the hive by doing the best they can. The colony has to be stimulated with sugar syrup and a special protein cake. Afterwards, the beekeeper has to put an artificial comb with drone cells between two combs filled with young brood. After a week the beekeeper has to inspect the father-colonies to see if the queen has laid any drone eggs. If there are no eggs, the combs are changed with others, taken from other colonies living in the apiary.

Another technique is to put the queen bee in the hive insulator so as to determine it to lay the drone eggs in the frame that was put into the hive. The bee family is strengthen by placing a frame with matured sealed brood which is about to hatch.

The beekeeper can limit the number of drones in the apiary colonies in order to favor the queens' mating with drones that are produced by the father-families. For doing this, the beekeeper can apply one of the following procedures :
1. usage of qualitative combs that have mostly worker bees cells
2. removal of combs that contain drone cells
3. unsealing of cells that contain drone brood
4. usage of Hanneman bars for the hive entrance
5. usage of drone traps or pollen recipients

It is important to bear in mind that the drone growth done under special supervision does not assure a 100% controlled mating. The maximum that a beekeeper can obtain is a quite high number of mattings with the selected drones. Artificial insemination is the only procedure that guarantees that the queen bees have been fertilized by the drones coming from the selected father families.

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