Drone Bee:
The life of the Male Honey Bee

The drone bee. How do I best explain the brief life of the honey bee male?

I suppose it depends on your perspective on life. I've heard it said they don't do much (but I disagree), because (say some):

  • Drones spend their time drinking nectar, mating (in the air at that!), and lazing around on flowers.
  • Drones do little around the home (a hive or, if a feral bee – perhaps a hollow tree or cavity in an old building somewhere).
  • They help themselves to nectar stores, yet they don’t do much to help out with the kids (okay, okay, I’m humanising them a bit – the brood!).
  • Heck, they don’t even go out and get food for the family!


On the other hand.....

  • Their lives are very brief (- is that unfortunate?).
  • They are only reared when it suits the queen honey bee (- is that exploitation?).
  • They die straight after mating! (- is it worth the sacrifice?).
  • Not all of them even get to mate! (- is that fair?).
  • At the end of the summer, or when the going gets tough, they’re the first to be kicked out of the colony, so as not to drain resources (- is that disrespectful?).

Yet the honey bee colony needs them, so let's simply say:  enough flippancy!  it's just nature - which of course, is what it is - it's the natural way of things for honey bees.

So, briefly:

Drones are fertile male honey bees, and they are vital for the survivial of honey bee colonies.  Their primary role is to mate with a receptive Queen honey bee, in order to ensure future generations of honey bees, and indeed, expansion and creation of colonies.

More About Drone Bees

Drones are larger than workers, but smaller than queen honey bees.

Their eyes are relatively large, and they develop from unfertilized eggs. (The process of fertilization being controlled by the queen honey bee).

The cells they develop from are slightly larger than worker cells, although drone eggs may be laid in worker cells that have become enlarged by stretching.

It takes 24 days for the drone to develop from being an egg to a fully grown adult bee.


Interestingly, the drone has no father, but he does have a grandfather!

How come?

Being from an unfertilised egg, he has only half the chromosomes of a worker bee, however, the queen came from a fertilized egg.

Put another way, the queen who layed the drone eggs, is the offspring of an egg fertilized by a drone (male).  Drones themselves, however, are the offspring of eggs that have not been fertilized by a male!

This scenario is referred to by biologists as ‘parthenogenesis’.

Each honey bee colony will produce several hundred drones. Their main contribution to the colony is the act of mating.

However, what actually happens, is the queen attracts drones to her, by excreting a special chemical pheromone, called the Queen Mandibular Pheromone (QMP).  In fact studies have been undertaken using dummy drone honey bees with the queen's pheromone, and such experiments have proven that the the queen attracts drones in this way.

During the course of around 3 nuptial flights the queen honey bee may mate with around 20 drones. Obviously some of the drones will be disappointed then!


As explained before, the drone will die upon mating. This happens because the drone’s reproductive organs are torn away from its body, whilst the queen flies off, with the drones genitalia attached to her.

Mating tactics of drone bees reminds me of blokes congregating at a club, waiting for the women to arrive! 

In a similar fashion, drones congregate around ‘hot spots’ waiting for the appearance of new queens!

Drones may live for just a few short weeks, but it is also possible they may live 3 to 4 months.

They are expelled from their colonies by the end of summer, but in any case, by the end of autumn, there will be few or no drone bees around.

Unlike queens and workers, the drone cannot sting. And although the do not forage for food, it is believed by some that they may help to incubate the brood.

Find out about the Honey Bee Queen

Find out more general information about Honey Bees

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