In today’s lesson of Rogue Farms Beekeeping 101, we introduce you to the reproductive methods of the honeybee.
At the center of life in a honeybee colony is the queen. She has earned her place on the throne because she is the only bee in the colony which lays eggs. Without a queen, the hive will die off in a matter of weeks.
But to lay eggs, the queen must first mate with drones from another colony. So the reproductive cycle of honeybees has two players, the queen and the drones.
Drones are the males of a hive. They are incapable of stinging, foraging for food or taking care of the brood. All they do is eat and mate. This may sound like an ideal lifestyle to about half of our readers, but the truth is much more brutal.
A queen is ready for mating about a week after hatching. She spent the first few days of her life fighting and killing potential rivals. The spoils of her battles await her in what’s known as a drone congregation area.
Drone Congregation Areas
A queen begins mating in the spring, after temperatures have risen above 70°F and only on calm days with little or no wind. She flies to what’s called a drone congregation area, a place where drones hang out waiting for the opportunity to mate with a queen.
No one is quite sure how drones know where find these areas because there’s no previous generation to show them. But somehow they make their way and drones use the same spots year after year.
The excitement begins when a queen flies into the area and releases pheromones that signal she’s ready for mating. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of drones chase after her. Only the fastest ones get to mate with the queen.
During a mating flight, the queen will mate with up to two dozen drones. She will return until she’s collected enough sperm to last the rest of her life and will never mate again.
After injecting his sperm into a queen, the drone’s penis falls off and he dies.
The Winter Of Their Discontent
The mating season ends in the fall and the drones no longer serve a useful purpose to the colony. They become a huge drag on resources and threaten the colony’s ability to survive the winter. So the drones must go. Each of them is dragged out of the hive by a worker bee and not allowed to return. Left on their own, the drones die within days.
The drones at Rogue Farms have several more weeks before their inevitable and unhappy ending. But it’s not just drones. Most of the females die too, as the colony shrinks in size to make the most of the stored honey it needs to make it through winter.
Next spring, it begins all over again.
Here at Rogue Farms the honey harvest will begin any day now. All of the hard work of our 7,140,289 honeybees and of our beekeeper will pay off as we gather that delicious dark amber wildflower honey. From spring till harvest, our bees forage among all the flavors of the terroir of Rogue Farms. You’ll taste it for yourself next time you open a bottle of our Honey Kolsch, Marionberry Braggot and Rogue sodas.
Come visit us for the harvest and help us Grow The Revolution!