Killing of the Drones

Okay, I’m still learning about beekeeping and I’m trying to harden my heart, but man, bees can be ruthless.

Here is what I believe to be a killed drone pupae. See the white pupae just left of centre in a row with 2 worker bees just being born? You can see his capping is higher than his neighbour’s indicating he was a drone (or I’m pretty sure anyway). I’ve read that when the bees decide they don’t want so many drones in the colony they not only kill the living drones by pushing them out of the hive where they starve and/or freeze to death (with autumn here I guess this is something that will be happening en masse soon), they also uncap the unborn drones which kills them.

Worker brood hatching with a dead uncapped drone cell in the middle
Worker brood hatching with a dead, uncapped drone cell in the middle

There were a few more of these (on the right under the worker bee) and we poked at them with a match stick to see what they were. Just a dead pupae, no obvious disease which pretty much confirms my accusation of murder.

Murdered bee drone pupae

Murdered bee drone pupae

Here’s a bunch of healthy capped worker brood with some dead uncapped drone brood scattered around – this is genocide!

Capped worker brood with several murdered, uncapped drone cells

Capped worker brood with several murdered, uncapped drone cells

This killing of the drones is perfectly natural. Bees keep drones around to mate with queens (hopefully not their own queens, but queens from other hives) should a queen make a mating flight. In spring and summer when swarming takes place, drones are built up to provide a good stock for mating. As autumn approaches (or, whenever they feel like it) all the girls in a colony of bees reach the same conclusion; males are lazy slobs who eat and take up space and are really more hassle than they’re worth. The girls then go on a seek and destroy mission around the hive. Okay, maybe they have a point, but still…

Geesh, it’s hard to love my bees sometimes.

About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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16 Responses to Killing of the Drones

  1. Are these pics from your own hives Laura? They’re great! Started my beekeeping course last Monday!

    • They are all from my hive. I’m sometimes amazed at how clear and detailed some of the shots are. Of course I have some really fuzzy mystery photos that look like they were taken during an earthquake as well 🙂

      I hope the course is going well. Is it many sessions? Are you going to post about it? I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences and when you get bees of your own (presumably you have to wait for your spring). I didn’t take a course but in Australia we have it easy with no real winter and much less pest and disease problem. In fact, the less we do to our bees, the better they seem to thrive!

  2. vuchickens says:

    Wish there was a dislike button as well… cruel bees indeed. Although, I must admit, there are times I’d like the option of uncapping my boys… as long as I could cap them back up again once all is forgiven. 😉

  3. Emily Heath says:

    Is that a varroa mite on the ‘Murdered bee drone pupae’? In a way perhaps it’s kinder of the bees to kill off the drone pupae, in autumn they wouldn’t have much chance of mating anyway and as you say would end up getting pushed out of the hive to starve.

  4. It’s true the female bees kick the drones out of the hive come Autumn. We have seen it over here too. Just nature’s way of keeping the hive alive during Winter when food stocks could be low.
    Not to worry there will be more next year.

    • Easy for us to say, I suspect the individual drones don’t think that new ones next year make up for starving to death this year 😦 I’ve heard you can see them begging to be let back in, very sad. I obviously am just too soft – my bees understand survival and sacrifice, I’m more into being nice and letting everyone eat honey every day!

  5. I guess you can forgive them in exchange for some yummy honey! X

  6. Interesting! Bee birth control. I suppose it you think of the colony as a superorganism they are just parts of the whole. (Just trying to make you feel better.)

    • Thanks for the attempt. I try to make myself feel better with all kinds of bad analogies. Like comparing it to humans trimming fingernails. That analogy works really well unless you happen to be a drone.

  7. Linda says:

    The boys just mooch off the ladies’ hard work…doing what boys do best…eating! Haha. Okay, they do aid in the heating and cooling of a hive… But, if you’re going into a low-producing season shift, you’re probably right about them killing them due to not wanting them around. They’ll be throwing the rest of the boys out on their butts in no time! Lol. Seems cruel, but they’ve got a lot of mouths to feed!

    • I think I’d be less judgmental if they weren’t still storing up heaps of honey. We really need to harvest again and I hear that there will likely be another harvest before the winter dearth (I’ve been told May is the last harvest but in August you may need to harvest again). This is Sydney, not Siberia. The girls really don’t need to wipe out the bludgers because there’s food year round here. I guess their genes don’t know that though and the ones killing the boys now won’t be alive to realise they didn’t need to. A very strange society where the current inhabitants of the colony are acting now to protect the next generation (or the one after that). Actually, when I put it that way, it makes them sound even more evolved. Maybe we humans could learn a trick or two about setting up future generations for success rather than eating up all the good stuff on the planet now.

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