Earth logo

Why do drones that mate with queen bees die so quickly?

the most spectacular ceremony in the bee world!

By adalberto alejandrinaPublished 4 months ago 8 min read

Bees are probably the most helpful of all insects, direct pollination of at least a third of the food we eat, they also provide us with delicious honey, and some of our technologies mimic their honeycomb structure.

Although the profession of beekeepers has been around for a long time, and we study bees a lot, the mystique of bees has never gone away.

For example, many people may know that drones die soon after mating, but why are the rules of the game in bee society set up this way?

In fact, it all starts with the way bees live in colonies, which are also one of the most interesting parts of their species.

The social structure of honeybees: queen, worker and drone

The ancestors of bees are thought to be species of the wasp family, which originally did not gather nectar, but preyed on other insects.

However, some of the insects they prey on have specialized flower "workers", and the ancestors of bees may have been exposed to pollen and eventually hooked themselves into it, becoming a pure nectar-feeding species.

The social structure of bees is how they become "nectar gatherers" - the earliest highly gregarious bees appeared 87 million years ago.

In a hive, there are three different types of bees: queen, worker and drone. Each type of bee has its own function that is critical to the continuation of the hive.

Interestingly, although the three types of bees are very different, they are all part of the same species - that is the queen bee. Sometimes I really feel that the entire hive is a single life, and the three types of bees are just three parts of the body.

There is only one queen bee in each hive, and its job is to lay eggs, and all eggs in the entire colony come from one queen bee.

The queen bee leaves the hive only once in her life - during the nuptial fly (I'll talk about nuptial fly in more detail below), it determines the ratio of worker bees to drones in the hive, fertilized eggs develop into workers, and unfertilized eggs develop into drones.

Drones are haploid, which is relatively rare in nature. Defects in genes may also mean that they can't do anything, so the only purpose of the existence of drones is to find other queens to mate and spread their queen's genes to further distances. place.

They do basically nothing in the hive (the presence of drones has now been found to help the larvae hatch - yet to be confirmed), and even need worker bees to feed them, the real first place to eat.

But spreading genes is crucial to life, and if one day their hives are taken care of, at least half of their genes are out there.

The bees we usually see are basically worker bees, which are also the most numerous bees in the hive. They are responsible for maintaining the normal operation of the entire hive, including collecting food, cleaning the hive, and defending against invaders.

However, worker bees still have an important job, which is to select new queen bees.

In fact, both new queens and worker bees are derived from the same cells as the old queen bees—fertilized eggs—and they are both female.

When the queen bee's egg production declines, it is discarded. At this time, the worker bees select a larva from the queen bee's fertilized eggs and feed it royal jelly. The fertilized larvae that eat the royal jelly will eventually develop into the new queen bee of the hive .

Wedding flight: the most spectacular ceremony in the bee world!

When spring comes, the drones eagerly rush out of their closed hexagonal honeycombs to become fully formed adult drones.

The whole process takes about 12 days for the drones, and they only live for about 20 days in total (some drones that do nothing can live up to 60 days), so from the moment they mature, they fly out in search of the chance to mate.

But there is an unsolved mystery here, that is, thousands of drones from different hives congregate at 9-36 meters in the air, and in the same place every year without major accidents.

As we said earlier, drones have a short lifespan, which means that every year a different drone gathers in the same place, and now no one knows what instructs them to gather there.

The new queens hatch a few days later than the drones, and when they are mature they fly to the drone colony area we mentioned earlier.

The new queen will fly to heights that are difficult for worker bees to reach—the worker bees, after all, are females, and sometimes compete for reproductive rights, releasing sexual pheromones to attract male bees.

The queen bee flies in front, a group of drones follow, and a bee leads a group of bees to fly very spectacularly. This process is called wedding flight.

The process of marriage flight is actually selecting drones and getting the best genes. Those who are not flying fast enough, or the queen bee thinks that they are close relatives will not mate with them.

In the wild, only 1 in every 1,000 drones has the chance to mate with the queen bee, and every queen bee only mates once in her life. However, depending on the species, the number of drones that the queen mates with will vary. Some species of bees have a queen bee once. The wedding flight will select 20 drones to mate with it in turn.

After mating, the queen bee will store all the germ cells (sperm cells) of the drone bees, and then return to the hive. If there is no accident, it will never go out again, and will use the germ cells stored during the nuptial flight to lay eggs throughout her life.

The reason why queen bees only mate once in their life is actually very simple, because copulation is a high-risk activity, and their natural enemies may be waiting for this mighty wedding ceremony.

So why do drones die after mating?

You may have heard that bees can only sting once and then die quickly. In fact, all stinging bees are worker bees, and when they sting, they tear open their abdomens to release their stingers, which kills them.

In contrast, drones do not have stingers, but they are very eager to inseminate the queen and do not want their own germ cells to be lost.

So, when mating, the drone inverts the entire reproductive system from inside to outside, and doing so helps push the germ cells deeper and is less prone to loss.

The result is exactly the same as when a worker bee stings, when the drones fall off the queen bee, part of their abdomen and internal organs are torn off and left on the queen bee's tail, which is the direct cause of their death.

Beekeepers sometimes use this - whether the queen bee has residue from the drone on her tail to judge whether the queen is successful in mating.

In addition, the drone can also block the reproductive organs of the queen bee, reducing the loss of germ cells and reducing the possibility of the queen bee mating with other drones.

However, the current drone has obviously reached another level. When the second drone also catches up with the queen bee during the wedding flight, it will take out the residue left by the predecessor and mate with the queen again. Of course, it is somewhat successful. There are also failures.

In the entire colony, the only purpose of the drone is to complete the mating, and mating is not an easy task, so they are willing to lose their lives.

So there's another question, what happens to the drones that are 99.9% unfinished?

The flight time of drones is actually very short, they can only fly for about 20 minutes at a time, and then must return to the nest and "refuel" - eat some honey.

If the drones do not successfully mate on the nuptial flight, they will keep trying until there are no more queens looking for a mate.

Those 99.9% of the drones that didn't accomplish their goals also died, and they were much more miserable than the ones that copulated.

Some drones die slowly in the hive when food is plentiful, and now researchers suspect they may help the larvae hatch.

But when food becomes scarce, such as when the weather turns cold, the worker bees will kill the drones and clear the hive.

After all, when there is insufficient food, there will be no new queen bees to mate, so the existence of drones is a waste of resources, and it is a wise choice to clean up.

Because drones tend to be larger, several worker bees are sometimes observed bullying a drone, biting off the drone's wings, dragging the drone out of the hive, and other more extreme means of torturing the drone.

at last

Much of the behavior of bees is puzzling, but if we look at the colony as a whole, all of their bizarre behavior becomes well-documented, with the goal of keeping the colony alive.

The life of a single individual is really nothing to the whole colony, especially when these individuals are still from the same life, because it is too easy to get such an individual, so many of their behaviors will show " one-time".


About the Creator

adalberto alejandrina

scientific exploration

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.