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The Drones Or Male Bees

The drones are, unquestionably, the male bees. Dissection proves that

they have the appropriate organs of generation. They are much larger and

stouter than either the queen or workers; although their bodies are not

quite so long as that of the queen. They have no sting with which to

defend themselves; no proboscis which is suitable for gathering honey

from the flowers, and no baskets on their thighs for holding the

bread. They are thus physically disqualified for work, even if they

were ever so well disposed to it. Their proper office is to impregnate

the young queens, and they are usually destroyed by the bees, soon after

this is completed.

Dr. Evans the author of a beautiful poem on bees thus appropriately

describes them:--

"Their short proboscis sips

No luscious nectar from the wild thyme's lips,

From the lime's leaf no amber drops they steal,

Nor bear their grooveless thighs the foodful meal:

On other's toils in pamper'd leisure thrive

The lazy fathers of the industrious hive."

The drones begin to make their appearance in April or May; earlier or

later, according to climate and the forwardness of the season, and

strength of the stock. They require about twenty-four days for their

full development from the egg. In colonies which are too weak to swarm,

none, as a general rule, are reared: they are not needed, for in such

hives, as no young queens are raised, they would be only useless


The number of drones in a hive is often very great, amounting, not

merely to hundreds, but sometimes to thousands. It seems, at first, very

difficult to understand why there should be so many, especially since it

has been ascertained that a single one will impregnate a queen for life.

But as intercourse always takes place high in the air, the young queens

are obliged to leave the hive for this purpose; and it is exceedingly

important to their safety, that they should be sure of finding one,

without being compelled to make frequent excursions. Being larger than a

worker, and less quick on the wing, they are more exposed to be caught

by birds, or blown down and destroyed by sudden gusts of wind.

In a large Apiary, a few drones in each hive, or the number usually

found in one, might be amply sufficient. But it must be borne in mind,

that under these circumstances, bees are not in a state of nature.

Before they were domesticated, a colony living in a forest, often had no

neighbors for miles. Now a good stock in our climate, sometimes sends

out three or more swarms, and in the tropical climates, of which the bee

is a native, they increase with astonishing rapidity. At Sydney, in

Australia, a single colony is stated to have multiplied to 300 in three

years. All the new swarms except the first, are led off by a young

queen, and as she is never impregnated until after she has been

established as the head of a separate family, it is important that they

should all be accompanied by a goodly number of drones; and this

renders it necessary that a large number should be produced in the

parent hive.

As this necessity no longer exists, when the bee is domesticated, the

production of so many drones should be discouraged. Traps have been

invented to destroy them, but it is much better to save the bees the

labor and expense of rearing such a host of useless consumers. This can

readily be done by the use of my hives. The cells in which the drones

are reared, are much larger than those appropriated to the raising of

workers. The combs containing them may be taken out, to have their

places supplied with worker's cells, and thus the over production of

drones may easily be prevented. Some colonies contain so much drone comb

as to be nearly worthless.

I have no doubt that some of my readers will object to this mode of

management as interfering with nature: but let them remember that the

bee is not in a state of nature, and that the same objection might be

urged against killing off the super-numerary males of our domestic


In July or August, soon after the swarming season is over, the bees

expel the drones from the hive. They sometimes sting them, and sometimes

gnaw the roots of their wings, so that when driven from the hive, they

cannot return. If not treated in either of these summary ways, they are

so persecuted and starved, that they soon perish. The hatred of the bees

extends even to the young which are still unhatched: they are

mercilessly pulled from the cells, and destroyed with the rest. How

wonderful that instinct which teaches the bees that there is no longer

any occasion for the services of the drones, and which impels them to

destroy those members of the colony, which, a short time before, they

reared with such devoted attention!

A colony which neglects to expel its drones at the usual season, ought

always to be examined. The queen is probably either diseased or dead. In

my hives, such an examination may be easily made, the true state of the

case ascertained, and the proper remedies at once applied. (See Chapter

on the Loss of the Queen.)