male bees

Male Bees - A Complete Guide

Male bees, also referred to as drones, are developed from unfertilized eggs. The drones might look quite similar to female worker bees, however, they are very different. Drones have a specific role in the colony—this also differs depending on the species.

Today we will take a closer look into the world of male bees.

What Is the Role of the Male Bee?

First and foremost, the male bee’s role is to mate with a queen bee. Honeybee drones will wait around high above the ground, in areas referred to as drone congregation areas (DCAs).

When an unfertilized queen enters the zone, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of drones will compete to be able to mate. The drones won’t fight, but they will see who can fly the closest to the queen in order to mate.

Around 10 to 20 of the drones will get to mate with the queen. If the queen bee doesn’t enter the DCA, the drones won’t notice her and she won’t be fertilized.

One might think that the drone’s role is rather narrow and not as impressive as the worker bee’s place in the colony. Truth be told, however, the drones are the ones who create genetic diversity within the colonies.

The queen only mates during her early life, and she only makes a few mating flights. During these flights, she will mate with several drones from other colonies. This action broadens their genetic pool, which prevents disease within the colonies.

Male Bumblebees Rarely Stick Around

Male bumblebees will usually leave their nest and never look back. The females will make a “learning flight,” where they fly out of the nest, then turn around to memorize the entrance. They will even memorize directions between flowers and their nest.

The male bumblebee, however, has been caught memorizing flowers. After feeding on a newly discovered flower, he will fly away, then turn around to memorize it.

bumblebee on flower
CC Image courtesy of mattx27

Male bumblebees will often travel far away from their parent’s nest, to avoid mating with relatives. Unlike honeybees, the male bumblebee lives as a solitary bee.

He will memorize specific paths that female bumblebees often cross. He will then either wait around or lay out special pheromones that will attract females.

Male Carpenter Bees Defend the Nest

If you’ve ever noticed bees flying in and out of the structure of your home, you might have carpenter bees. Female carpenter bees spend most of their time boring tunnels in wooden structures to make a nest. You will most often notice the male bee hovering around the opening of the nest.

wood bee (carpenter) in nest

Carpenter bees are known to be quite docile and non-aggressive, however, the female will sting when threatened. The male doesn’t have a stinger, but he will guard the nest.

Whenever he feels like a human or animal is getting too close to comfort, he will dive in on the intruder. This action is completely harmless, however, most people get frightened due to the size and sound of the bee.

How to Identify a Male Bee

Bee anatomy is fascinating, you might be surprised at how different male and female bees are. Male bees are usually larger than the female worker bees, but smaller than the queen.

The male honeybee has larger eyes compared to the female. He also has incredible eyesight and is able to spot a queen from afar.

Bumblebee males can be a little harder to distinguish. The telltale sign of a male bumblebee is that he doesn’t have a pollen basket.

bumblebee
CC Image courtesy of mattx27

The male also has 13 segments of his antennae, the female only has 12. His abdomen has seven segments and the female six. These signs are difficult to notice on a live bumblebee; besides being hairy, they aren’t going to stick around if you try to examine them.

How Long Does a Male Bee Live?

In a colony, it’s usually the queen who lives the longest. A male bee can live up to about eight weeks; however, his life is full of dangers. Take the honeybee drone, for example. After mating with a queen, the drone’s penis and other abdominal tissues are ripped from his body.

If he is one of the males that doesn’t get to mate, he might stick around until late fall. When the temperature drops, though, he’ll probably be evicted from the nest. That’s right, the females will actually prevent drones from entering the hive, in order to save food for the cold winter.

Do Male Bees Sting?

Male bees do not have a stinger. In some species, the males can become somewhat aggressive when they, or the nest, are threatened.

Male bees simply don’t need stingers because they don’t lay eggs. The female bee uses the stinger as a modified ovipositor, in other words, it lays the eggs.

This might also help us to further understand why some female bees die after stinging. Their whole reproductive system is being ripped out along with the stinger.

What Does the Male Bee Eat?

Male bees feed on nectar from different flowers and plants. Male and female bees tend to have different preferences when it comes to the type of flower they choose.

It’s a known fact that bees feed on nectar and pollen, however, male bees have a preference. Male bees require lots of energy as they fly about, waiting for a queen to come by.

pollinating bee

Pollen just doesn’t create enough energy for the male bees, therefore they tend to go exclusively for plants containing nectar. Female bees not only need the energy from the nectar, but they also need to gather pollen for the hive. The worker bees have to visit various kinds of flowers to gather all resources.

Summary

The male bee is quite interesting, his role can seem a bit unimpressive compared to the immense job of the female. Drones actually have a significant role in the colony and ecosystem. They are the ones who create a genetically diverse colony.

So, the next time you see a male bee, don’t be frightened, you now know that he won’t sting you.

Leave a Comment