Dr. James Tew took to the podium next to give his presentation: The Unloved Drone. See his PowerPoint slides of it here. This man is a great speaker — very relaxed, human, and entertaining. I think this man could talk about anything and I’d enjoy it.
The Unloved Drone
A colony produces 5,000 to 20,000 drones each year. Only 100-200 of those drones are successful at what they do. Ahem. For comparison, each colony will produce 1-10 queens each year and 0-4 of those will be successful. So, for every one queen produced, there are roughly 1000 drones produced. 13-17% of the (natural) brood nest will be drones.
There is a certain drone:worker ratio that the bees shoot for. It will vary with the season — drones drift so the titer level fluctuates. The workers decide what needs raised: workers vs. drones (and, occasionally, queens).
Mites prefer drones due to their longer growth cycle. A drone takes 23 days to develop and lives from 21 to 32 days. Drones are usually fed by the workers but are capable of feeding themselves. Once they are 14 days old, their mating flights begin. They fly from mid-morning until mid-afternoon — and will do so every day, weather permitting.
Most people think that drones do nothing but, in reality, they have a few “jobs”. Of course, they mate with the queen but they also add to the superorganism mass which helps to add temperature stability. In addition, they serve as a food source (protein) for the hive. In fall, they are all slaughtered. Yummy yummy in the tummy tummy! .That’s right, fellas. if we get hungry and start looking at you funny, you’d best make your peace.
Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs)
(If you ever want to read some incredibly fascinating stuff, research DCAs!)
DCAs are 30-200 yards across and in clear landscapes. They are still very mysterious to us. DCAs remain in the same location from year to year but they are no required. If drones catch a queen on her way to the local SpermMart, they’ll do their thang right there in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly. Hey, get a room, you two!
Here’s where it gets so freaking exciting, I could pee my pants:
Each drone has one million sperm. Each queen will mate multiple times. Think you had a wild youth? Queens are snickering at you right now, you know that, right? They will mate multiple times. Multiple. As in enough to last through her entire life — and she only saves 10% of the sperm she gets. There’s a buttload of genetic diversity to play with. Each drone has 16 chromosomes.
“16 chromosomes = 65,536 chromosomal combinations”
I know, right? Amazing, amazing stuff here. Dr. Tew also mentioned the “Herring Effect”: The queen is escorted to/from the DCA. In doing so, they may, in effect, “camouflage” the queen and help select which drones and, therefore, which genetics, get a chance at the queen.I’m telling you people. This is cool stuff.
Once the colony gets to this stage, they are beyond requeening.
Look for the signs: a different “sound” to the hive, spotty brood, multiple eggs in single cells, and diminishing worker population, along with unsuccessful queen cells. It’s probably laying workers. This is “not insignificant” — rather, it’s the colony’s last chance at survival. They’re trying to get some eggs laid and brood raised to send out a gene survival pod of sorts because they know the end is near.Using Drones for Varroa Control
We already know that mites prefer drones due to their longer development time. Use this to our advantage. Use drones as a “trap crop” to keep down the mite population before it gets a chance to build, thereby throwing that bee:mite ratio out of whack. Dr. Tew mentioned a gadget called the Mite Zapper. I’ll let you google that. In a nutshell, though, you come out and plug this special frame of drone cells into an extension cord. It heats up and cooks all of the mite-infested drones. Voila. The colony then tosses the dead mites and eats the dead drones. Win-win. A more low-tech way to handle it is to either freeze the frames or just scrape & crush/destroy the suckers.
Seasonal Drone Sacrifice
In lean times, such as drought, drones are sacrificed to feed the colony. Otherwise, the drones are all done away with in the fall. Buh-bye, useless eaters. *cue the Great Circe of Life song as we fade to a picture of Hannibal the Cannibal in his special mask*
Two more main presentations to go but I need to take a break to bake some cookies for tonight’s meeting. I’ll try to get back here when I’m finished licking my fingers.