Everything You Need to Know About Being a Boy (Bee)

I am way behind on pretty much everything at the moment. Which is why today’s Wednesday Wondering is really a recycled entry from a beekeeping blog I started back when I thought I was going to be a really dedicated beekeeper. I turned out to be the sort of beekeeper who installs the bees in a hive and is delighted to see that they are still alive several years later. Nevertheless, I wrote some cool stuff and then forgot about it, so now it’s like learning it all fresh again. Yay.

Everything you ever wondered about being a boy when you’re a bee:


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.


Gratuitous worker bee picture. That's pollen bulging from her legs.



5 responses to “Everything You Need to Know About Being a Boy (Bee)

  1. I love your posts about insect/mammal sex — just have felt awkward about posting anything too enthusiastic or asking questions. The love bugs here have been doing it like crazy–for the past week or so I have not even been able to walk to the car without seeing a mounted pair soar past me… I am glad I am not a love bug, but I think it looks fun : )

    • I think I am going to have to tame down a bit on my humor, ha! You’re not the first person who has found it a bit… awkward. Besides, I sorta like having a kid-friendly site, so that will probably be the last of its sort. It was fun while it lasted, though!

    • Hi Emma! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂 Poor poor boy bees. So helpless and useless… and then at the end of the season they get kicked out in the cold. I’m thinking maybe occupational training would be beneficial… has anyone looked into this?

      • Funny you should say that. A friend of mine suggested founding ‘El Padrone’ – a drone rescue charity to provide a retirement home after boy bees get their marching orders. ;o)

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