Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fat Dumb and Happy

Drone - (drohn) - n. - 1. The male of the honey bee and other bees. 2. a remote control mechanism, as a radio controlled airplane or boat. 3. a parasitic loafer.

Have you ever known that good for nothing, lazy bum that just laid around all day watching Jerry Springer and gobbling up Oreos, only getting off his dead a** to harass his better half for a little action? Well, the drone is the beehive's version of this clown. A drone doesn't have a stinger. A drone has no job within the colony. He doesn't gather nectar or pollen, nor does he make honey or help keep the hive clean. All he does inside the hive is eat. 

Delicious Honey- nom, nom, nom

A drone exists for one reason and one reason mate, but mating does not occur inside the hive. Rather, in the afternoons, drones from many colonies fly to drone congregation areas to wait on virgin queens to show up to attempt to mate with; sort of like a honey bee version of a frat party. When a queen shows up, a frenzied chase begins in what is known as a mating flight where as many as 20 drones will successfully mate with a single queen. I guess her flight back to the hive could be called the "flight of shame".

Now, you  may think that laying around all day eating and then heading out for a night on the town to get with the ladies sounds pretty good; and I agree wholeheartedly. However, before you wish you could be a drone in your next life, you should know there are some drawbacks. First of all, every fall, the worker bees (who are all female by the way) in a necessary measure for winter survival of the colony, beat the hell out of the drones and throw them out of the hive where they starve to death. Sounds kind of like something from an episode of Cops doesn't it? Secondly, a drone can only successfully mate once, and it's not because he loses his mojo. Instead, after the "lucky" drone completes his mating ritual, his "equipment" is ripped from his body. Um...kinda harsh.

Despite only comprising around 1% of the hive's population, drones are pretty easy to recognize. For one, they are larger than worker bees; probably from all that honey they've been munching on. Also, they have big goofy eyes, which aid them in spotting queens during mating flights. Biologically, a drone will develop from an unfertilized egg and will emerge from it's cell 24 days after the egg is laid. From a honey production and hive management standpoint, drones are worthless. However, the existence of drones is beneficial for integrated pest management in combating the varroa mite, a parasitic mite that attacks honey bees. Varroa reproduce within the brood chamber of the hive, by laying their eggs on the bodies of developing bees. Varroa prefer developing drones because their developmental period is longer than that of worker bees (24 days vs 21 days). One way of attempting to control varroa is to purposely allow a frame of drones to be raised by using special beeswax foundation with drone sized cells (drone cells are larger). After the cells are capped during the final stage of the drone's development, the beekeeper removes the drone frame and freezes it. The drones are killed, but so are the mites.

And there you have it. The fat dumb and happy drone. Next time, I'll give you some insight into the queen bee.

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 If you're interested in learning more about beekeeping, join a local beekeepers association as well as your state's beekeepers association. Explore your state's master beekeeper program if they have one. The following links can get you started:

U.S. State Beekeeping Clubs

South Carolina
South Carolina Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in South Carolina
South Carolina Master Beekeeper Program

Georgia Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in Georgia
Georgia Master Beekeeper Program

North Carolina
North Carolina State Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in North Carolina
North Carolina Master Beekeeper Program

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