GORMANSTON: Tuesday 2nd lecture

I chose to go to the Video Room for Peter Whyte’s talk: “Do drones have a role within the hive?” This was much better as it was light, bright and more engaging with the audience, inviting discussion. Peter told us that his intention was not to provide answers but to raise questions.  My notes extend over four pages and some of them are legible! If anybody took notes more legible than mine, please correct me!

First he ran through the succession of ancient authors who have written about drones: Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), Varro (now, why does his name seem so familiar?) 82 – 36 BC, Virgil, Pliny, Columella, Palladius.  Using Tickner Edwards’ ‘The Lore of the Honey Bee’ as a source of information, the thinking was that the Queen was a male and thus King and all the others female, drones being defective females of no value, the bees being procreated from flowers.

It was not until 1586 that illegible wrote that the ‘king bee’ is an egg laying female. In 1669 Jan Swammerdam used his microscope to examine ovaries.  In 1771 Anton Jansca described aerial mating behaviour.  In the early 18th century in Ireland the Dublin Society, soon to become the RDS, was founded to promote agriculture and, in 1733, published a book on beekeeping by the Rev Stevens: Instructions for Managing Bees. Then comes a giant leap for bee-kind as the next reference I noted was 1987 with Biology and Behaviour of Drones by R.W.Currie in Bee World.


1) Drone heat production: they have a metabolism roughly 3x that of a worker (Dadant 1975) and thus produce 3x as much heat, from which it follows that workers are free to forage earlier and later as drones will be at home, keeping the babies warm; drones flying at the middle of the day enables the nest to cool then; does drone larval heat production boost the colony build up, as production of drone brood is highest in May and June?

2) Drone ejection is at the end of the nectar flow. Why is it not at the end of the mating season? Do they have a role in honey ripening?  Drone ejection – temperature model: drone heat tolerance declines with age so they move to the outside of the nest; the nectar flow ends and so the hive temperature rises as there is less water evaporation leading the drones to move further out. Thus they lose the hive scent and recognition. There lots of ??????s among this part of the notes. Drone ejection – feeding model: they feed themselves from open cells or are fed by trophyllaxis – then the nectar flow ends – honey cell are capped off – they have to rely on workers for feeding – there’s no incoming nectar – nurse bees attack drones who beg for food.

3) Drones are accepted/retained by queenless colonies.What is the benefit to the colony?

4) Droneless v droneright colony behaviour: de-droned colonies don’t handle normally.

5) Some books (Yates) say it is easier to unite colonies when drones are present.

6) Free & Williams 1975: a large %age of eggs was sometimes laid in drone cells before the end of April although few were raised.  Are they a food reserve of 1st resort in dearth periods?

7) Celia Davis: Pheromone and kairomone effects; ‘The more we learn about colony control, the more complicated it becomes and the more questions there are that need answers.’, such as: Is there a ‘drone substance’?

The room being well-lit, all stayed awake and a lively discussion ensued.

Peter offers people who mail him at whytep@eircom.net a copy of his notes.  I shall do so now!




About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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