Did you know a male honeybee’s ejaculation is so strong, humans can hear it? Or that a drone bee (male honeybee) can’t sting? Or how about that male bees are fatherless…but yet they have a grandfather? Read on for the top 10 weird and utterly fascinating facts about male honeybees.
#1. Drones bee livin’ their best life
- Male honeybees don’t clean.
- Male honeybees don’t build honeycomb.
- Male honeybees don’t forage for food.
- Male honeybees don’t look after the baby bees.
- Male honeybees don’t protect the hive from intruders.
Oh no. These incredibly idle insects spend their days buzzing lazily around the hive eating honey hand-fed to them by nurse worker bees. That’s right! Drone bees (male honeybees) can’t even feed themselves. Their main purpose in life is to get. it. on. with a virgin queen. Sounds like a pretty good gig, right? But if you’re thinking of becoming a drone bee in your next life, you may want to read to the end of this post.
#2. A drone bee can have sex in the air
You have to give the male honeybee some credit. He can’t build honeycomb or collect nectar, but he can get a lady pregnant while flying. That’s pretty impressive and perhaps why drone honeybees are endowed with some of the largest genitalia, in proportion to body size, in the animal kingdom, according to the excellent book, QueenSpotting.
#3. Drone honeybees baffle beekeepers and scientists alike
Here’s a fun unsolved mystery for you to ponder:
During mating season, roughly 25,000 male honeybees from up to 200 different colonies (hives) will gather together about 10 to 40 meters high in the air. When the virgin queen leaves for her nuptial flight, which lasts only about 30 minutes, her doting lovers are primed and ready to greet her. These males are driven wild by the sight and smell of the queen and it’s a race to be the first to penetrate her. Only the fastest drones (about 1 in 1000) will have the privilege of mating with the queen.
It’s important the queen mate with as many drone bees as possible to ensure genetic diversity in her offspring. In fact, it’s key to her colony surviving. Hives, where queens mated with at least 7 drone bees, were almost 3 times more likely to survive the working season, according to this study.
Now here is the mysterious part of the story. Drone bees only live on average 90 days and none (or very few) survive the winter months. And yet year after year (for up to a decade or more) they will return to the exact same “congregation areas” or mating sites. How does the drone bee know where to go? And how does the secret location get passed down to the drone bees born the following spring? It’s an unsolved mystery.
#4. The male honeybee’s ejaculation is so strong, humans can hear it
A drone bee’s ejaculation is so powerful, you can apparently hear a “popping” sound as his semen is blasted into the queen’s “sting chamber”. Now that’s an orgasm unlike any other. The drone bee contracts his abs so forcefully he is able to “inflate” his endophallus (the bee equivalent of a penis) via this pressure. As he ejaculates, the drone bee becomes paralyzed and performs a sort of backward flip down to the ground. This is all accomplished in 5 seconds or less. I’m not making this up! Check out the Wikipedia page on drones bees or watch this video to see the whole thing in action.
#5. A drone bee’s penis explodes after mating
Life as a male honeybee is bittersweet. You spend every one of your spring afternoons looking for love, watching and waiting for a queen bee to pass by. But when you finally find your beloved and are actually successful in mating with her…you die. A drone bee’s semen is released so forcefully his endophallus (the bee equivalent of a penis) is ripped from his abdomen along with his intestines. The queen, on the other hand, err ” other bee leg”, flies off, with the drone’s genitalia attached to her. Kinda gives new meaning to the saying, “love hurts”.
#6. Drone bees are starved and tossed out of the hive
If a drone bee is lucky enough to escape death by intercourse, he may not fare any better than his buddies. When mating season is over and the drone bees are no longer useful to their colony, worker bees will toss out any remaining drone bees from the hive as summer temperatures drop. The colony just can’t afford to feed and care for these now useless drone bees.
Here’s how it’s done: First, the worker bees will refuse to feed them. When the drone bees are weakened, the workers will escort them out of the hive refusing to allow them to reenter. The poor drone bees eventually die from starvation or the elements.
#7. Drone bees are cheerleaders
No, they don’t carry around miniature pom-poms and kick their little bee legs in the air, but studies have shown drone honeybees do mysteriously raise the morale of their entire hive resulting in increased honey production and healthier and more active worker bees, according to the book, QueenSpotting.
Perhaps if we could understand their buzzing, it would sound something like:
“Honeybees! Honeybees! We’re you’re biggest fans. If you can’t gather the nectar, no one can. Goooooooooo bees!”
In fact, these drone bees are so good at cheerleading, they’re allowed to spend time in colonies that are not their own. If a worker bee were to enter another hive, it would instantly be killed by the guard bees, but drone bees (despite being a draw on honey supplies) are allowed to enter other hives.
#8. A drone bee produces one and half times as much heat as worker bees
One of the most important jobs in the beehive is to regulate its temperature. If it gets too hot or cold, it can affect the developing baby bees. Although I stated at the beginning of this post that male honeybees were simply lazing around the hive all day, it’s not entirely true. Drone bees actually produce 1.5 times more heat than worker bees mostly due to their larger body size, according to this study. Perhaps this is another reason drone bees are allowed to enter other hives.
#9. A drone bee can’t sting
Don’t be afraid to pick up a drone bee. Without a stinger, they’re great guinea pigs for practicing this beekeeping skill. Although they can’t hurt you, they will attempt to scare you by swinging around their useless tails.
#10. Drone bees are fatherless…but they have a grandfather
Almost all the eggs in a beehive are fertilized except for…you guessed it…those of the male honeybees. Instead, these drone bees develop from unfertilized eggs. This means that a male honeybee has a mother (the queen bee who laid the egg), but no father. So, how does the drone bee have a grandfather? The queen bee was born from a fertilized egg, which means she has a father. Any drone bees produced by the queen will have a grandfather (the father of the queen).
So, now that you’ve read to the end of this post, do you still think you’d like to be a drone bee in your next life? Probably not, but I hope you were amazed and fascinated by these little creatures who, despite being a little lazy, play a vital role in the hive.
Want to read more about bees and beekeeping? Check out my previous posts…
- The Bees are Coming…
- Why You’d Make a Great Beekeeper (and the benefits of keeping bees)
- Beeware: The Real Cost of Beekeeping and How to Save Money
- The Best Free DIY Hive Insulation
- The 7 Must-Have Hive Tools
- How to Catch a Swarm of Honeybees
- How to Find the Queen Bee or Where’s Waldo?
- Healing Honey Hand Salve (and how to render beeswax)
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