DRONE BEES

If on measuring the size of the cell a queen bee finds that it is a larger drone cell, she will not fertilize the egg as it passes out and, around 24 days later, a drone bee will emerge. Resulting from an unfertilized egg by a process known as parthenogenesis, the drone bee is, in effect, a flying gamete, having converted the genetic content of an unfertilized egg from one female into sperm and having carried this to another female.

RECOGNIZING DRONES

The drone is a very specialized animal indeed. He is a big, burly bee, and most novice beekeepers mistake drones for the queen. He is easily distinguished, however, because of his blunt abdomen and huge eyes, which cover most of his head. He has no sting and can be handled safely. This fact often leads even mature beekeepers to show off in front of non-beekeepers, and small children have been known to trick their teachers by presenting them with a handful of buzzing drones.

DRONES AND MATING

The drone is optimized for mating and, to do this to best effect, he needs to be able to fly extremely fast (his flight muscles and wing size are larger than worker bees’), to have extremely sharp vision and an extraordinary array of sense organs designed to respond to queen and other drone pheromones over large distances. For example, a queen bee has around 3,000–4,000 eye facets in her compound eye; a worker bee has up to 6,900; but a drone has up to 8,600. A queen bee has some 1,600 antennal plate organs (sensory organs); the worker has around 3,000, and the drone has an amazing 30,000. And it is these receptors that have been studied closely to find out how a drone finds a queen in the air and, sure enough, a research team in the USA has recently identified an odorant receptor that allows male drones to find a queen in flight. The receptor on the male antennae can detect an available queen up to 60 m (195 ft) away. The drone detects the queen substance pheromone, and this is the first time an odorant receptor has been linked to a specific pheromone in honey-bees

QUEEN SUBSTANCE PHEROMONE

The ‘queen substance’ (or ‘queen retinue pheromone’) was first identified decades ago, but scientists have only recently begun to understand its structure and role in the hive. This pheromone is a primary source of the queen’s ability to influence behaviour in the hive. It is made up of eight components, one of which – 9-oxo-2-decenoic acid (9ODA) – attracts the drones during mating flights. (It also draws workers to the queen and retards their reproductive growth, which means that the lack of a queen can lead to the presence of laying workers

AFTER MATING

In the sense that the drone is a vital link in the reproductive chain, the colony could not do without him, but he has few if any other tasks. During the autumn and winter periods or other periods of dearth when mating cannot take place or other survival factors take priority for the colony, the workers will therefore destroy drone brood and drag out drones and kill them or refuse their readmittance to the hive. The number of drones in a colony at the height of the season will be in the hundreds only, perhaps at most around a thousand. The drone is fed by workers until he is around seven days old, and he remains in the hive until around 12–13 days old when he is In the sense that the drone is a vital link in the reproductive chain, the colony could not do without him, but he has few if any other tasks. During the autumn and winter periods or other periods of dearth when mating cannot take place or other survival factors take priority for the colony, the workers will therefore destroy drone brood and drag out drones and kill them or refuse their readmittance to the hive. The number of drones in a colony at the height of the season will be in the hundreds only, perhaps at most around a thousand. The drone is fed by workers until he is around seven days old, and he remains in the hive until around 12–13 days old.

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