Saturday afternoon I looked across the yard and saw a cluster of bees on one of my hives. In the summer this is usual – bees bearding on the outside of the hive because they are not needed inside to cool the hive, or there’s just too many bees to fit inside when all the forager bees return by evening. But in the fall this doesn’t happen. So I was curious. I thought that maybe the hive was being robbed by another hive for its honey reserves, and these were guard bees or some others forced out. So I walked over to see just what was going on.
The clusters were drones- male bees. In the fall, the drones are pushed out of the hive because they are no longer needed for survival. Drones don’t forage, don’t build comb, don’t feed larvae, don’t do much of anything except for one thing. Each day the drones fly out to wherever drones instinctively go, waiting to mate with a virgin queen. That is, of course, if a virgin queen comes by. If and when a drone mates, it dies. In the fall, when the mating season ends, the worker bees push the drones out of the hive – there is no reason to feed them if they have no purpose and no reason to waste honey on them that will be needed by the workers and the queen during the winter. Its the bee economics of survival.
I never saw drones pushed out and clustered before, though it probably is a normal late season occurrence. In the past I have witnessed just a few drones being wrestled out by worker bees and then not allowed back into the hive by the guard bees. But on this hive there were two full clusters of drones…pushed out to starve and die. The worker bees were massed, guarding the entrance.
|Drones to the left and top , guard bees to the right.|
|Closer view of drones with two worker bees to the right.|