You are currently viewing Extra droning on … – The Apiarist

Extra droning on … – The Apiarist


Synopsis : Drones are actually being evicted from colonies. How and why does a honey bee colony regulate drone numbers?


Over the course of the final eight years posts on The Apiarist have gotten longer. This yr, posts are actually 5 occasions the size of the 2014 common. I’ve written – and hopefully, you’ll have already learn – extra phrases this yr than are in The Hobbit.

If this continues till the top of the yr we’ll have exceeded the phrase depend in Tolkien’s The Two Towers.

That is most likely unsustainable .

The rise is defined partially by the complexity of some subjects. It’s compounded by the necessity to present some contextual info … and by my prolixity . The latter is unavoidable, the previous might be obligatory, not least due to the numerous churn in new beekeepers.

A subject must be launched, defined, justified and concluded.

With out this contextual info a publish on oxalic acid trickling might be simply:

5 ml of three.2% w/v per seam once they’re broodless.

And the place’s the enjoyable in studying that?

Or writing it?

Moreover, it’s most likely of little use to a newbie who may not know what w/v means. Or what a seam is … or for that matter why being broodless is crucial.

Maintaining it topical

To maximise the revenue from web site promoting I must hold readers returning. This implies the selection of subjects ought to be essential.

Nevertheless, though some subjects are chosen as a result of they’re key ideas within the artwork and science of beekeeping, the bulk are picked just because I discover them attention-grabbing.

And this week is without doubt one of the latter as I’m going to be droning on about … drones.

Particularly about drone numbers within the colony.

This was prompted by seeing the primary drones of the season turfed out of the hive.

Dead drone at hive entrance

One other one bites the mud

Seeing this coincided with me discovering an attention-grabbing paper on how the queen’s laying historical past influences whether or not she produces drone or employee brood. This, inevitably, led me to different papers on drone manufacturing and discussions of how the colony controls drone numbers .

Drones are topical now as a result of their days in your colonies are restricted.

Already the colony shall be producing considerably much less drone brood than three months in the past. The drones the colony has already produced will nonetheless be flying strongly on good days.

Nevertheless, when within the hive they are going to be being more and more harassed by the employees.

Herding drones

When you open a colony very gently within the subsequent few weeks you would possibly discover the corners of the field include excessive numbers of drones. The picture above was taken in late August and I’ve seen it a number of occasions late within the season. My interpretation is that it’s the one location within the hive wherein drones can escape harassment by the employees.

Drone eviction

Drones ‘price’ the colony quite a bit to keep up. A drone consumes about 4 occasions the quantity of meals than a employee (Winston, 1987). Due to this fact, as soon as the health advantage of protecting drones falls beneath the anticipated prices wanted to maintain them they develop into ’surplus to necessities’. At this level the employees turf them out of the hive.

Evicted drones can not feed themselves, so that they perish.

It’s a troublesome life.

Curiously, employees preferentially evict outdated drones. Presumably youthful drones usually tend to fly strongly and mate with a virgin queen. Moreover, sperm viability in older drones is lowered, so their genes (and subsequently these of the colony) are much less prone to be handed on.

This ‘price’ of sustaining drones is influenced by each the colony and the atmosphere. For instance, queenright colonies (which, by definition, have much less want for drones) evict extra drones than queenless colonies within the autumn, as nectar turns into limiting.

Though most beekeepers affiliate drone eviction with late summer season/early autumn it additionally happens when nectar is in brief provide e.g. through the ‘June hole’.

It has additionally been prompt that drone eviction charges are associated to colony measurement. Small queenright nucs, which have much less want for drones, usually tend to evict than a full colony.

There’s nonetheless quite a bit we don’t find out about drone eviction. For instance, since drones are likely to accumulate in queenless colonies, do these preferentially evict associated drones to keep up potential genetic variety within the inhabitants?

Hannibal the cannibal

Permitting an unfertilised egg to hatch, feeding the larva, incubating the pupa to emergence after which sustaining the ensuing drone is a waste of assets if situations are usually not acceptable. For instance, doing this throughout a nectar dearth – significantly when drones are unlikely to be required for mating – is senseless .

Due to this fact, in early spring and late autumn, employees cannibalise growing drone larvae. Successfully they’re recycling colony assets. They preferentially cannibalise younger larvae relatively than older larvae. This is smart as younger larvae are going to want extra meals to achieve maturity.

As above, queenless colonies cannibalise much less queen-laid drone larvae than queenright colonies.

As well as, some research have proven that colonies with ample grownup drones cannibalise a larger proportion of growing drones. Once more, this makes affordable sense. Why rear extra should you’ve received sufficient already?

Nevertheless, to me it makes ‘affordable’, however not ‘full’ sense. Drones being reared as larvae are genetically associated to the colony, grownup drones might properly not be. Drones which have drifted in from adjoining hives might subsequently cut back the probability of the colony passing on its genes underneath environmental situations which favour larval destruction however not eviction of grownup drones.

Somebody must look into this in a bit extra element 😉 .

There are many different features of larval cannibalism that aren’t understood. For instance, how do employees discriminate between drone and employee larvae? Can they – because the queen can – measure the cell dimensions? Drone and employee brood pheromones differ from day 3 or 4. This appears a bit late to account for the cannibalisation of younger larvae?

The affect of the queen

Since employees might cannibalise growing larvae at completely different charges (drone vs. employee) it’s essential to measure the colony’s egg intercourse allocation to see how the queen might affect drone numbers.

Only some research have performed this …

There are experiments that counsel (they’re not definitive) that queens in constantly fed colonies lay extra drone eggs in spring and summer season than in autumn. This means that day size or temperature might affect the queen, but it surely may be a response to colony power i.e. the queen lays extra unfertilised eggs in a colony rising in measurement, than in a single lowering.

As well as – and that is the place I began down this rabbit gap within the first place – the egg laying historical past of the queen influences her present egg laying exercise.

This easy-to-understand research was carried out by Katie Wharton and colleagues (Wharton, 2007). They confined queens for a interval on both drone (DC) or employee comb (WC) – guaranteeing the queen may solely lay drone or employee eggs for 4 days. They then transferred the queens to frames containing a 50:50 mixture of drone and employee comb and recorded the quantity of drone or employee eggs laid over 24 hours.

WC queens laid extra drone eggs however the identical quantity of employee eggs as DC queens

There was a marked distinction within the egg laying exercise of the DC or WC queens when given the selection of laying drone or employee eggs. Though each the DC and WC queens laid comparable quantities of employee eggs, the WC queens produced considerably extra drone eggs as properly.

Egg laying historical past or drone brood quantification?

It is a good research. The authors managed for a wide range of components together with season, colony measurement and meals availability.

They moreover excluded the chance that the egg laying exercise of the queen was influenced by preferential cleansing of specific cells varieties by the employees, or by the employees backfilling sure cell varieties with nectar.

Lastly, Wharton and colleagues allowed the colony to rear the eggs laid to pupation. The bias already noticed was retained i.e. colonies headed by WC queens reared considerably extra drone pupae than these headed by DC queens. The employees didn’t ‘right’ the damaging suggestions exhibited by the WC queen, for instance by preferentially cannibalising drone brood.

Though I termed this the ‘egg laying historical past’ of the queen a number of paragraphs in the past there’s one other interpretation.

The employee or drone comb already laid up by the queen – through the 4 day confinement interval – remained within the colony. It’s subsequently potential that the egg laying exercise of the queen was influenced by the quantity of drone brood already current within the colony.

Both clarification is intriguing.

How does the queen ‘depend’ the variety of drone or employee eggs she’s laid within the current previous? Alternatively, how does she quantify the quantity of drone brood within the colony?

However what concerning the employees?

The Wharton research largely excluded the chance that there was preferential cleansing of drone or employee cells by the employees within the hive. The truth is, earlier research have indicated that cell cleansing continues virtually always and employees have been equally prone to clear employee or drone cells.

The Wharton research additionally addressed – and excluded – the chance that variations within the backfilling of drone or employee cells would possibly affect egg laying.

Nevertheless, it’s not understood what determines whether or not drone cells get backfilled with nectar by employees. My colonies are beginning to do that now. Do the employees fill drone cells with nectar as a result of the queen hasn’t laid in these cells or as a result of they solely backfill drone cells late within the season?

The previous suggests that there’s some form of competitors between the egg laying exercise by the queen and nectar storage by employees. In distinction, the latter means that there are environmental triggers that affect this employee exercise.

Or each … in fact 😉 .

Comb constructing

In distinction to among the research outlined above, comb constructing is simple to watch and – maybe consequently – has been properly studied.

I’ve already mentioned comb constructing in a current publish about queenless colonies. These preferentially construct drone comb (Smith, 2018).

What else influences drone comb manufacturing?

Most likely the 2 strongest determinants are the quantity of drone comb already within the nest and the season.

Drone comb manufacturing is lowered in colonies that already include a number of drone comb. Many beekeepers by no means observe this as they solely use frames containing employee basis. The employees squeeze in little patches of drone comb – typically within the corners of the body – but it surely by no means exceeds 5% of the whole.

Colonies typically choose to construct drone comb when given the selection

In distinction, pure nests include 15-20% drone comb. That’s equal to 2 full frames in a Nationwide-sized hive. As soon as drone comb approaches this stage a damaging suggestions loop operates and the employees construct much less drone comb. The damaging affect of this drone comb (on constructing extra drone comb) is enhanced if the comb accommodates drone brood.

Colonies drawing comb now (and definitely within the subsequent month or two) will construct employee comb. Some beekeepers exploit this to get pretty new employee frames drawn – nucs are significantly good at this . In distinction, drone comb is drawn in spring and early summer season. The season – presumably day size and temperature – subsequently influences drone comb manufacturing, and therefore drone manufacturing.

A thousand phrases

Nicely, nearer 2000.

As we close to the top of the season we begin to see drones evicted from our colonies. It’s attention-grabbing to consider the interaction of occasions that resulted within the colony producing these drones within the first place … and the way and why the colony regulates drone manufacturing all through the season.

Wharton (2007) neatly summarised the 5 phases from comb constructing to grownup drone eviction.

Drone manufacturing and upkeep in a honeybee colony

I’ve handled these in reverse order as a result of that was the most effective match with the picture of the useless drone on the touchdown board that I began with.

There’s quite a bit we nonetheless don’t perceive concerning the regulation of drone numbers. Particularly, I believe nearly all of research have ignored the affect of grownup drone numbers on any of 5 phases illustrated above.

This is a vital omission as drones transfer kind of freely between hives. That signifies that grownup drones could be genetically unrelated to the colony.

Maybe which means that grownup drones don’t affect drone manufacturing? In any case, in the event that they did negatively affect drone manufacturing – as prompt above – it might doubtlessly restrict the flexibility of a colony to breed its genes. Evolutionarily this doesn’t make sense (not less than, to me).

There are a few research which have tried to find out the affect of grownup drones, however they’ve produced conflicting outcomes. Rinderer (1985) added drones to a colony which consequently lowered drone brood manufacturing. Nevertheless, Henderson (1994) did the alternative and confirmed that elimination of grownup drones had no impact on drone brood manufacturing.

There’s clearly tons extra to do …


I wrote this late on Thursday night time. Whereas doing so I watched the web page views of my 4 yr outdated publish on Mad honey go ‘off the size’ (which for a beekeeping web site means a whole lot of views per hour). The curiosity wasn’t sparked by my erudite description of grayanotoxin intoxication. As a substitute it was associated to a video of a ‘stoned’ Turkish brown bear cub rescued after consuming honey produced from rhododendron nectar.

It’s now abundantly clear that if I need to keep my outrageous promoting revenue I ought to most likely write extra about hallucinogenic honey and fewer concerning the evolutionary subtleties of honey bee intercourse ratio willpower.

That’ll educate me 😉


Boes, Okay.E. (2010) ‘Honeybee colony drone manufacturing and upkeep in accordance with environmental components: an interaction of queen and employee selections’, Insectes Sociaux, 57(1), pp. 1–9. Obtainable at:
Henderson, C.E. (1994) ‘Affect of the presence of grownup drones on the additional manufacturing of drones in honey bee (Apis mellifera L) colonies’, Apidologie, 25(1), pp. 31–37. Obtainable at:
Rinderer, T.E. et al. (1985) ‘Male Reproductive Parasitism: A Issue within the Africanization of European Honey-Bee Populations’, Science, 228(4703), pp. 1119–1121. Obtainable at:
Smith, M.L. (2018) ‘Queenless honey bees construct infrastructure for direct copy till their new queen proves her value’, Evolution, 72(12), pp. 2810–2817. Obtainable at:
Wharton, Okay.E. et al. (2007) ‘The honeybee queen influences the regulation of colony drone manufacturing’, Behavioral Ecology, 18(6), pp. 1092–1099. Obtainable at:
Winston, M.L. (1987) The Biology of the Honey Bee. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard College Press.


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