The male bee is a drone.
Writing this post on Father's Day, it is worth noting that a baby boy bee has no daddy.
Compared to the ultra-busy female worker bees and the flamboyant Queen, the drone is a bit like the window dressing of the hive, for little more than a season.
He doesn’t forage, collect pollen or nectar. He simply bides his time, waiting for a mating flight. He even depends on the industrious worker bees for his food.
But don’t underestimate his importance. He is a winged sperm delivery system, said to produce around 10 million male sperm cells. His intense fixation on mating with virgin queens is what keeps the bee population expanding.
Especially in times of Colony Collapse Disorder, varroa mite infestations and deadly pesticides that kill bees, producing as many new bees as possible in a mating season is more important than ever.
The drone’s genealogy is most interesting. He only has a mother, but no father, because he comes from an unfertilized haploid egg. His mother's father is his grandfather, so that is his closest male relative.
The drone is a bit stouter and slightly larger than his hive sisters and has huge eyes that reach to the top of his head. He has no stinger. That’s right, if you get a bee sting it is most likely delivered by a female worker bee. Drones have no stingers and the Queen Bee rarely stings a human, saving her stinger for killing off rival queens.
Mr. Bee has a short lifespan of up to maybe 3 months. Although he might help with climate control if the hive gets too hot or too cold, his sole purpose is mating. So he flies to drone congregation areas where drones from many hives collect in anticipation of mating with virgin queens during their conquest flights.
Many drones die as virgins. If they don’t succeed in “catching” a queen, they live on to pursue another virgin queen until the end of mating season, unless they die first. The worker bees back at the hive tolerate and continue to feed them.
The drone that enjoys a successful mating flight dies right afterwards, when his endophallus breaks off inside the queen, causing the abdomen of the dutiful drone to be ripped out after which he falls to his death.
As late summer turns to early autumn and mating season is over, the remaining drones are kicked out of the nest to survive on their own or die. They have outlived their purpose. The worker bees busily stock pile food reserves for the winter. Kicking drones out of the hive are another way of ensuring there will be sufficient food for the workers, who in turn feed the Queen.
Seems like a no-win situation for the drone. Either way his days are numbered.
This is an example of the "selfless" contribution all bees make to the well being of their species.
If you have a drone story to share, just go on over to Facebook and share so we can all learn more!