What’s happening in the hive? There aren’t any drones

Are all the bees in the indoor beehive worker bees?

The answer right now is 99.99999 percent of them are.

All of the bees in our indoor beehive are female worker bees, except for the queen bee. There is one queen bee in each beehive, but the other 50,000-60,000 bees in the hive are all workers.

That is not always the case. Hives usually have drones as well, which are male honeybees. Drones don’t do any work throughout their lives. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. In fact, they are such a drain on resources and provide so little that the worker bees actually kick out any drones in a hive each fall so that they don’t eat through all their honey stores throughout the winter.

A queen bee only mates once in her life. Within weeks of emerging as an adult honeybee, she will leave the hive and find male drones from another hive and mate with 10-15, usually about 20 feet above the ground. She stores all of the sperm cells in her oviducts to immediately fertilize eggs when she returns back to the hive. The rest of the 5-6 million sperm she stores in what is called a spermathecal, which keeps the sperm in good condition for up to four years. The average queen lifespan is three-five years, so the sperm will last the rest of her egg-laying life.

The queen is completely in charge of all of the egg-laying for a hive, and she can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day if that many bees are needed. She also can choose if what she lays will be a worker bee or a drone. If an egg is fertilized, it will become a worker bee. If an egg is not fertilized, it will become a drone. A fertilized egg can also become a queen, but that rarely happens. A fertilized egg only turns into a queen if workers feed an egg cell royal jelly to help it develop into a new queen. They will feed an egg royal jelly if the queen has died and needs replaced or if a hive is growing too rapidly and needs to split and swarm — when a new queen takes half of the worker bees to establish a new hive elsewhere.

So, the reason that our beehive currently does not have any drones, only worker bees and one queen bee, is because the queen has already mated. She does not need to lay drone cells, because she does not need to ever mate again in her lifetime. She already has enough sperm stored inside her body to replenish the hive with eggs for her lifespan.

Read more about what’s happening in the hive with these two previous articles in the series:
“Drying Down Honey”
“Festooning Bees”

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