Well, it’s that time of year. The chilly weather is here to stay. Time to bundle up in your cozy sweaters, sip some warm spiced tea, and watch the leaves change. Fall is such a beautiful time of year, unless you’re a drone. While the worker bees and queen start settling in for the winter, drones get left out in the cold. Now, this may sound like a cruel act of nature, but hold tight. We’ll explain why the drones have to hit the road in order for the colony to survive the winter.
Drones are the male bees of the hive. You can easily tell them apart from worker bees because they are larger and have much bigger eyes, though a queen bee is usually bigger than the average drone. If you notice a drone with white eyes, that means it’s blind! A rare thing to see.
Due to their large body size, drones can maintain flight for about 20 minutes before having to rest. Because of this, drones need to consume a lot of honey for energy, which becomes a problem as colder months begin to set in. Drones consume so much honey that the stores would be depleted before spring, and the colony would starve to death.
You’ve heard the phrase, busy as a bee before and it’s no joke! During the warm months worker bees are working their little wings off collecting nectar and pollen to make honey. They protect the hive from predators, help the queen raise, and take care of brood. Worker bees are out and about collecting forage from sun up to sun down, and what are drone bees doing? Next to nothing.
Summertime is when drones thrive. They spend their days lounging around the hive, eating honey which is in plentiful supply, and occasionally flying to other colonies to mate
with their queen. Drones never help collect pollen or nectar, they don’t raise brood, and they don’t have stingers to protect the hive. They eat and they mate.
But they can only mate when the weather is warm. Once it gets chilly, drones basically just eat the honey stores the worker bees spent so much time creating, which is a major problem. As mentioned above, drones need to eat a lot of honey to maintain themselves. Come winter, they could easily eat through the colony’s honey stores. So, since drones don’t pull their weight and are a risk to the colony’s survival, worker bees give them the boot.
You’ll begin to notice a shift in your bees’ behavior. They’ll spend more time inside the hive, sealing it with propolis. They’ll frantically
search for that last bit of forage, and yep, they’ll kick drones to the curb.
Do drones just give up and leave the hive? Heck no. On top of all the work worker bees have done over the summer, they now have to forcibly drag drones out of the hive. Usually more than one worker bee will push the drone out or drag them out by their wings. Drones will try and sneak their way back in, but the worker bees are on guard.
Don’t be surprised if you find a bunch of dead drones around the outside of your hive. While it may seem unfortunate, if the drones aren’t removed then the whole colony could collapse and all the bees inside would be dead. As long as the colony remains healthy and the hive remains protected, there will be plenty of new drones next year.
It’s not easy seeing your bees perish in the cold. While you may feel a sentiment in trying to save them all, it is important to keep in mind that what is happening with the drones in your colony is natural. The worker bees are ensuring that your colony has a future. Honey bees have been doing this for thousands of years, trust their instinct. Don’t forget, you can help your colony survive the winter by wrapping it up and preventing pests from getting inside. Seeing drones get kicked out of the hive is a sign that your colony is in good worker bee hands and is ready to face the winter to come.