Droning on and on

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Curious Fact: Here is a drone bee, preening himself for an outing. He will spend most of the afternoon at the gentleman’s club (known to beekeepers as the “drone congregation area”), using his enormous eyes to search for likely female prospects. Since every hive in the area produces between 300 and 3000 drones in a season but only a single eligible female every few years, you can see his odds are unfavorable, even given the promiscuity of virgin queens. Accordingly, drones are not picky about whom they mate with nor how many others have done so already, nor even the imminent risk to personal health. For a drone, the penalty for ecstasy is death–nearly instant. When finished ejaculating, he will pull away, leaving his reproductive organs, and much else as well, behind with the young queen. The next male in line will remove the former lover’s remains and repeat the same deadly act.

Drones are almost completely useless to their parent colony. They are not even capable of feeding themselves. Those males unfortunate enough still to be living at the end of the mating season face a far more poignant end to their lives–their own sisters will push them out the door and refuse to let them re-enter. Since the silly boys have never so much as fed themselves a morsel of food in all their lives, they will either freeze or starve to death.

It’s easy to satirize the big-eyed drone, who obsessively preens himself before every outing, and spends his time alternately seeking virgins to impregnate and begging his hard-working sisters for food. But he serves an important genetic purpose and perhaps deserves to be cast in a more heroic light. As the product of an unfertilized egg, he carries only the genes of his mother and is thus more closely related to his sisters than many of them are to each other (for not all workers share the same father). While the infertile females of a colony work tirelessly to protect a single genetic gold mine–the queen their mother who lays all the eggs–the drones are busy taking that same genetic material out into the world where it could potentially permeate many new colonies.

So, rather than a slacker with a one-track mind, a drone bee is truly a soldier and a martyr. While the workers keep the home fires burning, he is out on the front lines fighting a genetic battle and paying for success with his very life. No wonder when he gets home at night he expects a warm meal and a good rest.

Adventure Update: So much activity outside the hive today! Here’s a worker bee, carrying yellow pollen in her baskets, soaring in for a landing:

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We also spotted orange and red pollen entering the hive. In the image below, you can make out more yellow pollen, as well as some bees running the air conditioning. It’s easier to see if you click on the picture to get the full size.

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So, needless to say, the bees have been busy. As a result, they seem to have filled out most of the frames in their brood box, so I added a super today (decorated by Eli in green and purple):

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And, because maintenance tasks are boring to read about but important to keep track of, I’m starting a new section for my blog entries with the exciting and creative title of “Maintenance.” Read the section if you’re avidly interested in the minutiae of my beekeeping activities. Skip it if you’re normal.

Maintenance:

1. Learned to light the smoker! Not hard really, especially because I “cheated” by ordering the special fuel plugs the beekeeper supply companies make. Not hard to use, either, except that I turned it upside down and dumped a chunk of fuel directly on top of the inner cover where the bees were milling about. Ack!

2. Re-filled the feeder–it was nearly empty. I’m using a two-quart jar. Actually had a bee try to get through my veil–I guess I made her mad by brushing her off the feeder.

3. Didn’t quite have the nerve to take the frames out of the brood box. I started to but chickened out. Maybe next time! Still, I could see that the frame on either end of the hive was still pure foundation–no drawn comb. But the other frames all have comb as far down as I can see without lifting them out.

4. Next time I think I’ll even have the nerve to take my camera and take photos of the inside of the hive. It’s worth seeing!

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