Ever wonder about the “bees” part of “the birds and the bees?” Well, turns out it isn’t all lollipops and rainbows. The queen of the colony is only there to produce baby bees and the drones (the only male bees in the colony) are only there to provide their services to the queen.
The life of a drone bee consists of drinking nectar, lazing around on flowers, and, if they’re lucky, mating with the queen. They don’t do much to help out around the hive. In fact, drone bees eat more than their fair share of the stored nectar without doing anything in return. They just take the amount of food they need to survive.
When it comes to mating, the term lucky is used very loosely. The process for humans consists of a man and a woman get together, make a child, and spend the rest of their lives raising that little bundle of joy to be the best it can be. Honey bees aren’t that sentimental.
In her lifetime, the queen only makes three nuptial (mating) flights and mates with several drones during each flight. The mating ritual occurs about 250 to 300 feet in the air and can take place more than a mile away from the hive. The drones chosen by the queen have the honor of passing on their genetics to the future of the colony, but at what cost?
The drone sex organ is barbed, just like the stinger of a worker bee. Mates of the queen bee have their reproductive organs torn away from their body as she flies away — with their organs still attached to her — and mates with another drone. Sounds painful, right? That’s not all. After they get their manhood ripped away, they fall to the ground and die. Mating with the queen is the ultimate sacrifice for the colony.
What about the bees who don’t mate with her? They’re thrown out of the colony by the end of the summer. After all, the leftover drones are lazy and they eat a lot of nectar, so they’re the first to be weeded out. The workers and the queen need all the resources they can get to survive the winter. They can’t be bothered to take care of the drones.
As for the queen, she’s just as much a slave as the drones are. The three nuptial flights are made at the beginning of her reign and after that, she spends her time being fed by worker bees and laying between 1,000 and 1,500 eggs a day. The only time she isn’t laying eggs is when food in the colony is low.
The queen is also liable to be kicked out of the hive if she isn’t doing her job properly. That’s when the hive creates virgin queens; all the workers have to do is feed baby female bees something called royal jelly until they’re big enough to fight to the death and determine who the new queen will be. Then the colony can revolt and drive the old queen out.
So, it’s pretty ironic that we call the creation of life “the birds and the bees” if mating for bees is a matter of life and death. The drones die after giving their genes to the queen and she spends the rest of her days laying eggs. The queen bee and the drone bees are just slaves for the colony, and they’re as replaceable as any other bee. –Kiera Hufford