What happened To the Drones
The weather has started cooling in NE Ga, and hive activity has changed with the season. One very noticeable change is the drone activity. As I walk the bee yard observing the hives and performing final inspections of the season, it is not uncommon to see lots of drones wandering around under the hives, or to find piles of dead bees drones on the ground. In the fall, this is a sure sign the male honeybee has been evicted from his home.
The cool air of fall signals the nearing end to the beekeepers season. While we perform final inspections and begin to clean up activities, the honeybees perform a clean up of their own. The worker bees serve an eviction notice, and kick the drones to the curb! They are banished from the hive and left to starve or freeze to death.
The question new beekeepers may be asking is, “Why?” To answer that you first have to understand the role of the drone to the hive and look at what they don’t do for the hive.
- They do not build comb.
- They do not gather nectar or pollen.
- They do not protect the hive.
- Some books say they don’t even feed themselves, the worker bees have to feed them!
- As a matter of fact, drones are useless except for mating with a queen. They venture from the hive each day and go hand out at the drone congregation area and wait for a queen to fly by in hopes of mating with her after which they promptly die.
So to ensure having enough stores for the queen, the workers and any brood that may be reared during the winter, the drones are expelled. The hive will not spare the food to feed the drones.
In my bee yards, I have observed this banishment play out in a variety of ways.
- I have watched drones simply be prevented from entering the hive. The guard bees block their way or sometimes they will drag them to the edge and throw them off.
- I have been inspecting a hive and watched one or two bees grab a drone and drag him out of the hive. Sometimes they throw him over the edge and sometimes they fly away with him.
- I have watched them wander around on the outside of the hive and on the ground. Some of them had their wings chewed on. The wings looked very ragged and they resembled varroa mite symptoms. (When in doubt of the cause, INSPECT!)
The worst thing I have observed is the removal of drone pupae from their capped cells. The pupae were on the ground and on the hive porch. Seeing this was very distressing and caused me to check the pupae for varroa also.
I hope this helps prepare you for some of the possible occurrences in the bee yard during the fall months. If you are not sure of what you are seeing, try finding a seasoned beekeeper to ask questions, and inspect your hive! I believe if something is wrong it is better to treat it late than not at all.