Imagine that your only purpose in life is to mate with a virgin queen. And once you succeed, you die.
That is the fate of the male honeybee, also known as the drone.
Drones appear in beehives in late spring and often live for up to 90 days. They do not even collect their own nectar and pollen to feed themselves. They are dependent on female worker bees to feed them.
He is his mother's son. The drone grows from an unfertilized egg. They are haploid, meaning they contain only one set of chromosomes, from the mother. This means the drone has only a mother, and no father. This is in contrast with female worker bees that develop from fertilized eggs and are diploid in nature, which means they have a set of chromosomes from the mother and a father.
Each drone produces around 10 million male sperm cells, and they are all genetically identical.
The virgin queen bee flies to a drone congregation area and mates with anywhere from 5 to 19 drones from different hives during her mating flight. This ensures her daughters will have genetic diversity. Mating only lasts 1-5 seconds usually. It is an explosive and forceful event that pushes the drone backwards and away from the queen.
This 3:48-minute video by Woods Bee Co gives us the whole story about drones:
When a drone succeeds in mating with a virgin queen, all his blood rushes to his endophallus. This makes him lose control of his body and it falls away, leaving part of his endophallus attached to the queen. This acts as a beacon for the next drone in line to mate with the queen. Meanwhile, the first drone falls to the ground, dead or dying.
Drones can fly for about 20 minutes at a time. They must be fast to keep up with the queen bees they wish to mate with.
Drones are bigger than worker bees usually and have eyes that are twice as large as those of the queen or worker bees.
There can be around 200 to 300 drones in a bee colony in high summer.
If a drone fails to mate with a virgin queen during spring or summer and is still alive in late autumn, he will be ejected from the beehive by worker bees when flowers become scarce because he will consume too many resources during winter. This results in certain death for the drone, since he cannot feed and protect himself, so he dies of exposure to the elements.
The drone plays an important role in the survival of the species by mating with a random virgin queen. Although he is built for mating, the drone helps with other activities, especially working with worker bees to regulate the hive temperature. He also protects the hive by buzzing around intruders to scare them away, but he is unable to sting.
The drone bee may have a relatively easy life, but whether he dies during mating or from being evicted from his home to starve and die alone, there is no doubt that the drone bee does not have an easy death.