Role of Drones in a Beehive
Drones play a vital role in the overall health and functioning of the bee species. Their primary purpose is to mate with virgin queens, ensuring the colony’s long-term survival and genetics. It’s also worth noting that a healthy drone population indicates a well-fed, successful colony, as drones are often viewed as “free-loaders” since they do not contribute to the hive’s daily activities, such as foraging for pollen and nectar.
Foundationless frames, which allow bees to build their natural comb, can lead to a higher percentage of drone cells in a hive. Some beekeepers have reported up to 25 to 50 percent drone brood in such hives. While this may seem alarming, it’s essential to consider that bees have their ways of self-regulating their population and adjusting the number of drones based on the colony’s needs.
Consequences of Too Many Drones
Drones consume vital colony resources, including honey and pollen, which can strain the colony’s food supply. Since drones do not forage or contribute to the colony’s productivity, a high drone population might be detrimental, particularly during dearths when nectar and pollen are in short supply or when optimizing honey production is essential.
In addition, worker bees must spend valuable time and energy caring for drones. Supporting a large drone population can divert attention from other essential colony tasks, potentially reducing overall colony health and productivity.
Reduced Worker Efficiency
Increased drone presence can lead to reduced worker efficiency due to overcrowding and competition for resources. When there are too many drones, workers may have difficulty accessing food or moving within the hive, resulting in the diminished performance of vital colony tasks such as foraging, nursing, and temperature regulation.
An abundance of drones could be caused by a failing queen, either caused by poor mating or a decrease in egg-laying ability.
Increased Varroa Population
The biggest issue facing beekeepers since the late 80s is the varroa mite. Mites not only spread diseases such as deformed wing virus, but they affect the health of individual bees by sucking on their hemolymph, which is the bee equivalent of blood.
For varroa to reproduce, it has to find its way to a cell with bee larvae before it is capped and feeds throughout the pupal stage until the adult bee emerges. It has been proven that mites are more attracted to drone brood and produce more viable mites in drone comb. That is why some beekeepers will use drone cell foundation as a varroa mite trap and remove it once the brood is capped.
Factors Contributing to Drone Overpopulation
Colonies are genetically programmed to produce many drones when beekeepers use foundationless frames in their hives. By using a pre-stamped foundation instead, the worker bees are limited to drawing worker cell-sized comb, cutting the total number of drones the colony will produce.
Although opening the hive daily is a bad idea, it’s necessary to regularly inspect your hive and look at how much drone comb is in the hive. A healthy hive should have approximately 10-15% of its population as drones. Remove excess drone brood during routine hive inspections. By culling some drone brood, beekeepers help to maintain a more suitable balance between worker bees and drones.
Sometimes bees just want to produce drones. It’s that simple. When the environment is full of nectar and pollen, and the weather allows them to collect them in great quantities, a colony will produce more drones than usual, maximizing its reproductive potential.
Honey bee colonies have their natural means of regulating drone numbers. During times of scarcity or when the colony is under stress, worker bees will often push drone brood out of the hive, as drones are unable to perform essential tasks such as foraging for nectar or pollen and cannot sting to defend the hive.
In summary, while a beehive must have sufficient drones to support the species’ reproduction needs, it is also beneficial to avoid excessive numbers. An optimal balance can be achieved by allowing the bees to construct a mix of both worker and drone comb cells. Reducing drone populations doesn’t negatively impact the individual honey bee colony.
Some beekeepers might unintentionally limit the number of drones in their hives by using full sheets of standard worker-size-cell foundation, as pointed out by BIBBA. However, it’s essential to acknowledge the drones’ role in the natural functioning of honey bee colonies and allow for their presence in hives.
Maintaining a healthy balance of drones within a beehive ultimately contributes to the colony’s overall well-being and ensures successful reproduction efforts. Beekeepers should strive to maintain harmony in their hives, as it’s crucial for the long-term sustainability of these essential pollinators.