Honeybees have different hierarchies and functions. They have a single queen bee, thousands of female worker bees, and many male drone bees. Now, the issue is regarding the differences in the lifespan of the hive members, particularly the drones. How long do the male drones typically live?
The male honeybees, also called drones, live an average lifespan of 55 days , about eight weeks . These drones don’t do much for the hive. Their primary responsibility is to mate with the virgin queen bee during her nuptial flight. They are best suitable for mating from 16 to 28 days and can produce about 5-10 million sperms when healthy.
Let us learn more about the lazy members of the hive, the drone bees.
What is a drone bee?
There are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide, and approximately 4,000 of these bee species are native to the United States [1, 2]. Out of the world’s total bee population, only around 10% are social bees, including the bumble bees, honey bees, and stingless bees.
These social bees usually live in colonies, including a single queen bee, thousands of worker bees, and drone bees. Though we often associate bees with being hardworking, it is usually an overstatement because only the female worker bees work hard for the colony. Their male counterparts, or the drones, don’t actually help in food collection, defense, feeding, hive maintenance, and others.
The drones are reproductive and crucial to ensuring that the queen bee has enough sperm cells during its time as the mother of the hive. The drones’ main contribution is to mate with the queen bee. Unfortunately, it will kill them in the process.
What do drone bees do for the hive?
Drone bees do not have any particular contribution to the colony because they don’t forage pollen and nectar or help in constructing the hive. They can’t even feed themselves and must rely on healthy nurse bees to provide them with pollen and honey.
Their only contribution to the colony is to go to designated drone congregation areas, mate with the newly emerged queen bee during its nuptial flight, and provide the necessary sperm cells needed when the queen bee starts to lay eggs.
Drones don’t even do anything beyond the mating process because the successful drones to mate with the queen will die eventually in just a few minutes or hours.
The unsuccessful drones will return to the hive and can stay there only until the female worker bees allow them. This happens because the adult drones don’t have any valuable contribution to offer to the hive and will just be mouths to feed and accelerate the depletion of the hive resources.
The life cycle of a drone bee
The male honeybees or drones live for only 55 days or almost 8 weeks. It usually takes around 24 days for a drone to fully develop . Afterward, they will leave the hive to go to the designated drone congregations area.
The drone congregation area is a designated location where the sexually mature male drone bees will gather to wait for the virgin queen bee. However, the drone congregation area is filled with drones from different hives to ensure that the queen bee will receive various genetic diversity from male drones .
Once the awaited virgin queen bee enters the area, the drone bees will gather towards her and commence the nuptial flight with an average of 15 drone bees . This will only take a few minutes, and the queen bee will have enough supply of sperm cells to last for a few years.
Once the mated queen bee leaves the drone congregation area, the drones will stop pursuing the bee. The successful drones to mate with the queen bee will soon die shortly after the act. On the other hand, the unsuccessful drones will return to the hive to survive from the care of the nurse bees.
What happens when drone bees are evicted from their hives?
Since these male bees will only eat the food of the hive without really helping in the collection of food and other hive tasks, once the winter comes and the hive starts to have a shortage of food, they will be killed or kicked out of the hive by the worker bees, where they will likely die from the cold weather or lack of food.
What are the differences between a worker and a drone?
The hive of a honeybee colony follows a caste system, where there are significant differences between their tasks for the hive. The queen bee is tasked with ensuring that the hive is adequately populated.
The worker bees do most of the things for the hive. On the other hand, the drones don’t do anything productive of their time aside from that one-time mating flight with the queen bee. However, they are still an essential component of the hive to ensure its survival of the hive.
Aside from the queen bee, the drones are the next largest bees in the hive. Drones are almost twice the size of the worker bee. Though they are larger, they are mostly harmless and don’t do any other significant tasks in the hive besides mating.
Though the worker bees are larger, they are almost useless in defending the hive since they don’t have any stingers. The stingers are only available for female bees, like the queen bee and the worker bees.
However, if necessary, the drone bees can still try to defend the hive by biting any threat using their mandibles.
Another considerable difference between the drone and worker bees is their lifespan. The drones typically live for an average of 55 days but will mostly die after mating. On the other hand, the worker bees live about six to seven weeks during the Spring/Summer season but will live as long as four to six months during the autumn.
The worker bees are the female bees tasked with almost everything in the hive. Their tasks include nursing the brood, harvesting pollen, nectar, and water, constructing and repairing the hive, defending the hive against different threats, and even killing the queen bee when they get too old.
On the other hand, the drone bees are not as helpful to the hive once they pass their mating stage. They are also likely to get evicted from the hive when the food supply starts to dwindle.
5. Eating and Feeding
The drones are already established to be almost useless in the hive, aside from mating. However, they are still essential to the survival of the colony. To add to their incapacities, they can’t even feed themselves. They are mostly reliant on the worker bees to feed them.
What diseases affect drones in particular?
1. Varroa Destructor
The Varroa Destructor is a type of external parasitic mite that infest honeybees that is dangerous to the hive if left untreated . These mites feed off the bee’s immune system, like the hemolymph, weakening the bee and making it more vulnerable to infections.
The Varroa Destructor also have a preference for drone broods that can cause them to not form properly . This parasite has been found in various countries around the world. It has the ability to destroy a whole colony in just a few years.
The drone bees or the male bees of the hive only have an average lifespan of 55 days or almost eight weeks. These bees are mostly freeloaders and will just eat up the resources of the bee hive until the time they mature and be ready for their only real role, which is to mate with a virgin queen bee,.
This mating session will happen during the nuptial flights of the virgin queen bee. The healthy drones are capable of producing 5 to 10 million sperms. The drones will gather in a designated location called the drone congregation area while waiting for the queen bee to arrive.
Once the queen enters the area, about 15 drones from various colonies will try mate with the virgin queen bee, fertilizing the queen bee but killing the successful drones in the process. However, the unsuccessful drones will have to return to the hive, where they will be more mouths to feed by the nurse bees. This will continue until they are killed or kicked out of the hive.
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