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Drone Honey Bee: The Ectasy and The Agony

Excerpted from: Drone Bee: The life of the Male Honey Bee

In The Beginning . . .

Queen, Drone and Worker Honey Bee Cells It all starts when the honey bee Queen lays an unfertilized egg (haploid) into a cell. Drone cells are easy to distinguish as the drone cell is larger in diameter and the cap appears higher and more rounded at the top, in comparison to a worker bee cell.

The drone larvae is fed for about 2-3 days with Royal Jelly. After the third day, they are fed Bee Bread, which is a hearty mixture of honey and pollen. After a drone’s development through larva and pupa stages is complete – in about 24 days – it will hatch.

New research finds Drones inject toxins during sex that cause temporary blindness and may also kill the sperm of competitors. The toxins identified in a new study are proteins contained in Drone's seminal fluid.

Couch Potatoes

Drones begin their life by begging food from the nurse bees. As they mature they can begin feeding themselves from the honey stores.

Drones do little around the hive, they don't clean or build honey combs and they help themselves to nectar stores. Yet they don’t do much to help out with the kids. Heck, they don’t even go out and get food for the colony!

It is sometimes said that drones spend their time drinking nectar and lazing around on flowers.

Bachelor Parties

Drone Honey Bee On warm and sunny afternoons during the mating season, sexually mature drones fly out of the hive and congregate with other drones high in the air, to form a cloud of bees. There may be as many as 1,000 drones from up to 240 different colonies. The drones themselves are flying between 1 to 3 miles from their hives to nearby drone congregation areas.

A drone in peak season may go on multiple mating flights per day, with only a few minutes in between for tanking up on fuel. After eating, the pre-flight checklist includes antenna and eye cleaning, all the better for finding those virgin Queens.

Sex And The Single Girl

Virgin honey bee Queens mate at their very young age about 5 to 10 days after coming out from the queen cell by flying to the Drone congregation area. Most nuptial mating flights occur within a mile of the virgin queen’s home colony. If a queen encounters a drone congregation area right away, the mating can take place very close to the Queen’s home colony.

A queen bee mates with an average of 12 drones (range 1–32) and a well reared queen bee when fully mated can contain from 4.3 million to 7 million sperm in her spermatheca. She may take several nuptial flights.

Doing The Deed

Honey Bee Drone Mating With Queen The drones' main function is to be ready to fertilize a receptive Queen. Drones are attracted to her by queen-produced pheromones and visual cues and attempt to mate with the queen in mid-air. Drones possess an odorant receptor that allows them to find a queen in flight. The receptor, on the male antennae, can detect an available queen up to 60 meters away.

Drones in a hive do not usually mate with a virgin Queen of the same hive because they drift from hive to hive. It is poorly understood how these areas are selected, but they do exist. When a drone mates with his sister, the resultant queen will have a spotty brood pattern with numerous empty cells.

Mating occurs in flight, which accounts for the need for the drones to have better vision, which is provided by their large eyes.

Drones Have A Huge Penis

The drones have a huge and elaborate 'endohallus.' Yep, we are talking about a bee penis. The drone endophallus is designed to disperse a large quantity of seminal fluid and spermatozoa with great speed and force. The endophallus is held internally in the drone. During mating, the organ is everted (turned inside out), into the queen. The eversion of the endophallus is achieved by contracting abdominal muscles, which increases hemolymph pressure, effectively "inflating" the endophallus. 'Cornua claspers' at the base of the endophallus help to grip the queen.

New research finds Drones inject toxins during sex that cause temporary blindness. The toxins identified in a new study are proteins contained in Drone's seminal fluid. All honeybees make these proteins, though some may make more of it than others, and honeybee seminal fluid toxins can kill the sperm of rivals.

Fewer than 5 in a 1,000 drones will get the opportunity to mate with a Queen. Should a drone succeed in mating, he soon dies because the endophallus breaks along with associated abdominal tissues are ripped from the drone's body after sex. A portion of the endophallus remains inside the Queen. The male falls to the ground and soon dies from his few moments of sexual bliss.

It's A Long, Cold Winter

In areas with severe winters, all drones are driven out of the hive in the autumn. The life expectancy of a drone is about 90 days.

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