More droning on …

Synopsis : Drones are now being evicted from colonies. How and why does a honey bee colony regulate drone numbers?

Introduction

Over the course of the last eight years posts on The Apiarist have got longer. This year, posts are now five times the length of the 2014 average. I’ve written – and hopefully, you’ll have already read – more words this year than are in The Hobbit.

If this continues until the end of the year we’ll have exceeded the word count in Tolkien’s The Two Towers.

This is probably unsustainable 1.

The increase is explained in part by the complexity of some topics. It’s compounded by the need to provide some contextual information … and by my prolixity 2. The latter is unavoidable, the former is probably necessary, not least because of the significant churn in new beekeepers.

A topic needs to be introduced, explained, justified and concluded.

Without this contextual information a post on oxalic acid trickling could be just:

5 ml of 3.2% w/v per seam when they’re broodless.

And where’s the fun in reading that?

Or writing it?

Furthermore, it’s probably of little use to a beginner who might not know what w/v means. Or what a seam is … or for that matter why being broodless is critical.

Keeping it topical

To maximise the income from site advertising I need to keep readers returning. This means the choice of topics should be important.

However, although some topics are chosen because they’re key concepts in the art and science of beekeeping, the majority are picked simply because I find them interesting.

And this week is one of the latter as I’m going to be droning on about … drones.

Specifically about drone numbers in the colony.

This was prompted by seeing the first drones of the season turfed out of the hive.

Dead drone at hive entrance

Another one bites the dust

Seeing this coincided with me discovering an interesting paper on how the queen’s laying history influences whether she produces drone or worker brood. This, inevitably, led me to other papers on drone production and discussions of how the colony controls drone numbers 3.

Drones are topical now because their days in your colonies are limited.

Already the colony will be producing significantly less drone brood than three months ago. The drones the colony has already produced will still 4 be flying strongly on good days.

However, when in the hive they will be being increasingly harassed by the workers.

Herding drones

If you open a colony very gently in the next few weeks 5 you might find the corners of the box contain high numbers of drones. The photo above was taken in late August and I’ve seen it several times late in the season. My interpretation is that it’s the only location in the hive in which drones can escape harassment by the workers.

Drone eviction

Drones ‘cost’ the colony a lot to maintain. A drone consumes about four times the amount of food than a worker (Winston, 1987). Therefore, once the fitness benefit of keeping drones falls below the expected costs needed to keep them they become ’surplus to requirements’. At this point the workers turf them out of the hive.

Evicted drones cannot feed themselves, so they perish.

It’s a tough life.

Interestingly, workers preferentially evict old drones. Presumably younger drones are more likely to fly strongly and mate with a virgin queen. Additionally, sperm viability in older drones is reduced, so their genes (and therefore those of the colony) are less likely to be passed on.

This ‘cost’ of maintaining drones is influenced by both the colony and the environment. For example, queenright colonies (which, by definition, have less need for drones) evict more drones than queenless colonies in the autumn, as nectar becomes limiting.

Although most beekeepers associate drone eviction with late summer/early autumn it also occurs when nectar is in short supply e.g. during the ‘June gap’.

It has also been suggested that drone eviction rates are related to colony size. Small queenright nucs, which have less need for drones, are more likely to evict than a full colony.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about drone eviction. For example, since drones tend to accumulate in queenless colonies, do these preferentially evict related drones to maintain potential genetic diversity in the population? 6

Hannibal the cannibal

Allowing an unfertilised egg to hatch, feeding the larva, incubating the pupa to emergence and then maintaining the resulting drone is a waste of resources if conditions are not appropriate. For example, doing this during a nectar dearth – particularly when drones are unlikely to be required for mating – makes no sense 7.

Therefore, in early spring and late autumn, workers cannibalise developing drone larvae. Effectively they are recycling colony resources. They preferentially cannibalise young larvae rather than older larvae. This makes sense as young larvae are going to need more food to reach maturity.

As above, queenless colonies cannibalise less queen-laid 8 drone larvae than queenright colonies.

In addition, some studies have shown that colonies with abundant adult drones cannibalise a greater proportion of developing drones. Again, this makes reasonable sense. Why rear more if you’ve got enough already?

However, to me it makes ‘reasonable’, but not ‘complete’ sense. Drones being reared as larvae are genetically related to the colony, adult drones may well not be. Drones that have drifted in from adjacent hives may therefore reduce the likelihood of the colony passing on its genes under environmental conditions which favour larval destruction but not eviction of adult drones.

Someone needs to look into this in a bit more detail 😉 .

There are lots of other aspects of larval cannibalism that are not understood. For example, how do workers discriminate between drone and worker larvae? Can they – as the queen can – measure the cell dimensions? Drone and worker brood pheromones differ from day 3 or 4. This seems a bit late to account for the cannibalisation of young larvae?

The influence of the queen

Since workers may cannibalise developing larvae 9 at different rates (drone vs. worker) it’s necessary to measure the colony’s egg sex allocation to see how the queen may influence drone numbers.

Only a few studies have done this …

There are experiments that suggest (they’re not definitive) that queens in continuously fed colonies lay more drone eggs in spring and summer than in autumn. This implies that day length or temperature may influence the queen, but it could also be a response to colony strength i.e. the queen lays more unfertilised eggs in a colony increasing in size, than in one decreasing.

In addition – and this is where I started down this rabbit hole in the first place – the egg laying history of the queen influences her current egg laying activity.

This easy-to-understand study was conducted by Katie Wharton and colleagues (Wharton, 2007). They confined queens for a period on either drone (DC) or worker comb (WC) – ensuring the queen could only lay drone or worker eggs for 4 days. They then transferred the queens to frames containing a 50:50 mix of drone and worker comb and recorded the amount of drone or worker eggs laid over 24 hours.

WC queens laid more drone eggs but the same amount of worker eggs as DC queens

There was a marked difference in the egg laying activity of the DC or WC queens when given the choice of laying drone or worker eggs. Although both the DC and WC queens laid similar amounts of worker eggs, the WC queens produced significantly more drone eggs as well.

Egg laying history or drone brood quantification?

This is a good study. The authors controlled for a variety of factors including season, colony size and food availability.

They additionally excluded the possibility that the egg laying activity of the queen was influenced by preferential cleaning of particular cells types by the workers, or by the workers backfilling certain cell types with nectar.

Finally, Wharton and colleagues allowed the colony to rear the eggs laid to pupation. The bias already observed was retained i.e. colonies headed by WC queens reared significantly more drone pupae than those headed by DC queens. The workers did not ‘correct’ the negative feedback exhibited by the WC queen, for example by preferentially cannibalising drone brood.

Although I termed this the ‘egg laying history’ of the queen a few paragraphs ago there is another interpretation.

The worker or drone comb already laid up by the queen – during the 4 day confinement period – remained in the colony. It’s therefore possible that the egg laying activity of the queen was influenced by the amount of drone brood already present in the colony.

Either explanation is intriguing.

How does the queen ‘count’ the number of drone or worker eggs she’s laid in the recent past? Alternatively, how does she quantify the amount of drone brood in the colony?

But what about the workers?

The Wharton study largely excluded the possibility that there was preferential cleaning of drone or worker cells by the workers in the hive. In fact, earlier studies have indicated that cell cleaning continues almost constantly and workers were equally likely to clean worker or drone cells.

The Wharton study also addressed – and excluded – the possibility that differences in the backfilling of drone or worker cells might influence egg laying.

However, it’s not understood what determines whether drone cells get backfilled with nectar by workers. My colonies are starting to do this now. Do the workers fill drone cells with nectar because the queen hasn’t laid in these cells or because they only backfill drone cells late in the season?

The former suggests that there is some sort of competition between the egg laying activity by the queen and nectar storage by workers. In contrast, the latter suggests that there are environmental triggers that influence this worker activity.

Or both … of course 😉 .

Comb building

In contrast to some of the studies outlined above, comb building is easy to monitor and – perhaps consequently 10 – has been well studied.

I’ve already discussed comb building in a recent post about queenless colonies. These preferentially build drone comb (Smith, 2018).

What else influences drone comb production?

Probably the two strongest determinants are the amount of drone comb already in the nest and the season.

Drone comb production is reduced in colonies that already contain lots of drone comb. Many beekeepers never observe this as they only use frames containing worker foundation. The workers squeeze in little patches of drone comb – often in the corners of the frame – but it never exceeds 5% of the total.

Colonies often prefer to build drone comb when given the choice

In contrast, natural nests contain 15-20% drone comb. That’s equivalent to two full frames in a National-sized hive. Once drone comb approaches this level a negative feedback loop operates and the workers build less drone comb. The negative influence of this drone comb (on building more drone comb) is enhanced if the comb contains drone brood.

Colonies drawing comb now (and certainly in the next month or two) will build worker comb. Some beekeepers exploit this to get lovely new worker frames drawn – nucs are particularly good at this 11. In contrast, drone comb is drawn in spring and early summer. The season – presumably day length and temperature – therefore influences drone comb production, and hence drone production.

A thousand words

Well, nearer 2000.

As we near the end of the season we start to see drones evicted from our colonies. It’s interesting to think about the interplay of events that resulted in the colony producing those drones in the first place … and how and why the colony regulates drone production throughout the season.

Wharton (2007) neatly summarised the five stages from comb building to adult drone eviction.

Drone production and maintenance in a honeybee colony

I’ve dealt with these in reverse order because that was the best fit with the photo of the dead drone on the landing board that I started with.

There’s a lot we still don’t understand about the regulation of drone numbers. In particular, I think the majority of studies have ignored the influence of adult drone numbers on any of five stages illustrated above.

This is an important omission as drones move more or less freely between hives. That means that adult drones may well be genetically unrelated to the colony.

Perhaps this means that adult drones do not influence drone production? After all, if they did negatively influence drone production – as suggested above – it would potentially limit the ability of a colony to reproduce its genes. Evolutionarily this doesn’t make sense (at least, to me).

There are a couple of studies that have tried to determine the influence of adult drones, but they have produced conflicting results. Rinderer (1985) added drones to a colony which consequently reduced drone brood production. However, Henderson (1994) did the opposite and showed that removal of adult drones had no effect on drone brood production.

There’s clearly lots more to do …


Notes

I wrote this late on Thursday night. While doing so I watched the page views of my four year old post on Mad honey go ‘off the scale’ (which for a beekeeping site means hundreds of views per hour). The interest wasn’t sparked by my erudite description of grayanotoxin intoxication. Instead it was related to a video of a ‘stoned’ Turkish brown bear cub rescued after eating honey produced from rhododendron nectar.

It’s now abundantly clear that if I want to maintain my outrageous advertising income I should probably write more about hallucinogenic honey and less about the evolutionary subtleties of honey bee sex ratio determination.

That’ll teach me 😉

References

Boes, K.E. (2010) ‘Honeybee colony drone production and maintenance in accordance with environmental factors: an interplay of queen and worker decisions’, Insectes Sociaux, 57(1), pp. 1–9. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-009-0046-9.
Henderson, C.E. (1994) ‘Influence of the presence of adult drones on the further production of drones in honey bee (Apis mellifera L) colonies’, Apidologie, 25(1), pp. 31–37. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1051/apido:19940104.
Rinderer, T.E. et al. (1985) ‘Male Reproductive Parasitism: A Factor in the Africanization of European Honey-Bee Populations’, Science, 228(4703), pp. 1119–1121. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.228.4703.1119.
Smith, M.L. (2018) ‘Queenless honey bees build infrastructure for direct reproduction until their new queen proves her worth’, Evolution, 72(12), pp. 2810–2817. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/evo.13628.
Wharton, K.E. et al. (2007) ‘The honeybee queen influences the regulation of colony drone production’, Behavioral Ecology, 18(6), pp. 1092–1099. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arm086.
Winston, M.L. (1987) The Biology of the Honey Bee. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Footnotes

  1. Growing like Topsy …

    … more on this in the future.

  2. Verbosity isn’t the right word here. Prolixity (to me at least) means tediously verbose. There’s a difference.
  3. See Boes (2018) for a good overview.
  4. Assuming they’ve not ’scored’ yet (and/or died trying).
  5. Depending on how much of the season is still remaining at your latitude.
  6. Not a simple question and confounded by the different distances drones and queens fly to mate.
  7. And evolution is usually as logical as that famous pointy-eared Vulcan, Mr. Spock.
  8. OK, that doesn’t seem to make sense. This was done by removing the queen under environmental conditions where drones were undesirable.
  9. Or pupae, but that’s outside the scope of this post.
  10. As scientists like doing easy experiments!
  11. Colony size also influences drone comb production; swarms don’t produce drone comb for about 3 weeks and large swarms go on to produce more drone comb than small swarms.

22 thoughts on “More droning on …

  1. Elaine

    Thanks David, interesting reading. Few things I’ve noticed at this time of year re drones…There are proportionately more drones in queenless colonies, as you’ve pointed out. A nuc with my (relatively old) breeder queen is undergoing supersedure, the supersedure cell has emerged and the nuc now has a lot of drones in. Nucs as you’ll know tend to have fewer drones, so I’m assuming these are attracted via pheromones from the presence of a virgin queen and are arriving from unrelated colonies, I’ve observed this before.

    I have quite a few drone super combs, I’ve found these are increasingly difficult to draw from foundation from July onwards, compared to worker foundation. Also, I’ve noticed there seems to be reluctance to fill drone super combs with nectar, compared to worker combs, drone comb is always the last to get filled no matter where they are positioned in the super. Any ideas why this might be the case?

    As you’ve said, so much more to learn about drones and they are the least researched of the sexes.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Elaine

      I’ve also assumed that drones are attracted to colonies with virgin Q’s due to pheromones produced by the latter. However, I suppose there are other reasons … they might be attracted to the ‘hive smell’ but repelled by pheromones from a mated queen (as there’s no chance of mating with the latter). I guess a key point would be the relative attraction of a queenless hive or a hive containing a virgin Q.

      I use a lot of drone foundation in my supers. However, most was drawn years ago and I simply can’t remember the timing and/or relative rate at which it was drawn. I’ve also not observed that they are slower to be filled … however, I always try and have a box of drone comb at the bottom of the stack of supers. They seem less enthusiastic to fill it with pollen, or to leave an empty arc in it above the brood nest. It’s certainly not infallible, but it does seem to help. As a consequence of this (coupled with me usually adding 2 supers at a time and then not checking them very frequently 😉 ) I’ve not observed differential filling rates.

      It looks as though the heather is very poor this year on the west coast. All my supers are therefore in Fife and – those I’ve not already recovered – are hopefully all full and bulging with honey. It’ll be next year before I get a chance to see if they’re filled at different rates.

      Real feeling that the season is winding down now … 🙁

      Best Wishes
      David

      Reply
  2. Elaine

    Thanks David, that’s a good tip re drone comb in the first super, I’ve heard that elsewhere too and something I’ll try next year as I have a few prolific pollen gatherers.
    Heather here in Yorkshire is flowing well in the warm weather. Expect it to slow down as the temperatures cool next week, in the meantime supers filling fast 🙂

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      As I said … “It’s certainly not infallible, but it does seem to help.” Specifically it seems to stop pollen storage more or less completely, but I still sometimes see the ’empty brood arch’, particularly (but in no way scientifically controlled!) in stronger colonies.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  3. Yvonne Wagner

    I always look forward to your posts and never find them “tediously verbose.” Carry on, thanks.

    Reply
  4. Ivan Marples

    Your posts are neither prolixity nor verbiage. They are thoughfully crafted and carefully structured pieces that burst with ideas, data and questions. The bigger the better. I would like to know more about the non-reproductive benefits that drones might serve to a hive, if there are any, beyond being sacrificed as a meaty morsel to the sisterhood

    I have used foundationless frames this year and there is an abundance of drone comb, as you have shown in photos. I shall now look out for seasonal and queen right variations in their occupancy with brood or stores

    I too read of the intoxicated bear. Now I’m off to read your post on deli bal

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Ivan

      “The bigger the better” … I’m going to need a longer week 😉

      I think Jürgen Tautz has written about the role of drones other than the obvious one we all know about. Perhaps in The Buzz about Bees? I’ll dig out my copy (potentially still packed after the last house move) and have a look.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  5. Dave Mcmanis

    Hello David,
    Excellent as usual.
    Your comments on drones hiding seems to explain why the rearmost frames of many of my own hives were recently almost totally filled with drones and very few workers.
    I’ll take particular note on my next inspections.
    Can’t wait for Return of the King.
    Dave Mcmanis

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi Dave

      I went through some boxes today and also noticed the same thing.

      The Return of the King is only about 134,000 words long – less than The Two Towers. If you’d said you were looking forward to The Lord of the Rings (455,000+) I’d have been worried 😉

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  6. Adam Darling

    A few years ago I had some been on the office car park and a colleague came to me and exclaimed that there were lots of dead bees around the hive – “I thought you’d better know as there might be something wrong” As you have already guessed, it being September at the time (I think) there must have been a mass chuck-out of drones from the colony.
    However if the weather is good enough, queens will mate reliably through September in my corner of Norfolk, so there’s always enough drones around from somewhere.

    As a footnote to this, I rarely have bees at work now as I get complaints from the ‘car polishers’ about the little browny-orange spots on their cars. There are a couple of car manufacturers that produce cars in a colour which I describe as “bee sh*t orange” but I have failed in my atempt to get my work colleagues to buy them that colour.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Adam

      When I lived in the Midlands (similar latitude to Norfolk) the queen rearing season was – dependably – much longer than it is here in Scotland. It wasn’t unusual to be grafting in mid-April and getting queens mated until at least mid-September was usually pretty reliable. Although late season supersedure here is reasonably common (for example, when the bees are on the heather) it’s not something I want to rely upon, and the start of the queen rearing season is about a month later. Of course, there are always exceptional years, but on average everything is compressed a bit. Drones probably start to get turfed out in early August. There are still lots in the hives, but there days are numbered and they’re starting to look a bit harried. Perhaps it’s me over-interpreting things but I think they increasingly meet more resistance when returning to the hive … or a hive, as they’re very much “Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home”.

      I suspect there aren’t many beekeepers who are ‘car polishers’ 😉 We’re too busy and we know what a futile exercise it is …

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  7. Vince Poulin

    David – Let me “Drone On”. My mite trapping project is finished. Results look as good as Ralph’s but I haven’t done alcohol washed yet – just busy. Summary: Started July 21 and pulled all traps on August 13. I replaced trap frames 3 times. Sometimes leaving them in the hives to become fully capped while queens remained excluded. By August 13 all hives were without any brood. Thus all remaining mites phoretic. August 13 – all 4 hives treated with OA vapour. Mite drops were: Aug 14 – 19, 25, 2, 111. Aug 15 – 20, ?, 1, 71. Aug 16 – I don’t have my data – misplaced somewhere but remember in Hive 4 up to about 25 mites, the remainder no more than a few in one hive to 15 max. OA2 was administered on August 17 (3-days later). For the 4 hives: 6, 6, 4, 8. August 18 (today): 8, 9, 0, 0. For this test I used a new vaporizor I was worried my unit was not functioning well but the results shows it is fine. These are excellent post trapping OA results. Effectiveness of the trapping? I uncapped cells from 1 of the removed drone frames on August 13. Results: N=113 cells uncapped, #Mites n=77. Mites/cell = 0.68. I learned a good number of mites did not come out when larvae were removed. Later I checked carefully for this but safe to assume more mites were in the cells than counted. Also these are adult mite – nice shiny brown buggers. Many cells had small, very juvenile mites – all white and alive and kicking at the bottom of cells. For that frame I estimated the surface area containing drone cells. Total surface area – 57 in sq. #drone cells/sq inch = 25 (5X5). This gave me an estimated 1,425 cells available. Thus 1,425 X 0.68= 969 mites. Assuming 15% not fully capped (no mites) I can drop that by about 145 mites for a total estimated kill of n=824 mites on that frame. I often removed a trap frame that was not fully capped and let it got outside the trap to keep working while I gave the queen a new frame for her to lay up. But fair to say we can expect that the last frame like this one would be open to more desperate mites and possibly effectiveness increases in trap efficiency through the treatment. All said 824 mites on August 13 means one hell of a lot of infected winter bees. On August 16 I removed 2 frames from a 5th hive located at my nursery apiary. Those frames show again we catch a lot of mites using this technique. The first frame was only partially capped. I had 74-capped cells total. In those cells were 143 mites for a ratio of nearly 2 mites per cell. On the second frame 113 cells were uncapped and contained 127 mites. That was 1.1 mites per cell. I did a similar areas estimate of capped cells to give a total mites captured estimate. The result was 770 mite on that frame. These are mites from the last trapping episode. I had 2 previous episodes of trapping. Easy to see I removed well over 1,000 mites from the hives that contained them each. These are all pre-winter bee production mites. Results look to have achieved a near mite-free hive environment prior to winter bee production season. I crushed one queen in the process of undertaking trapping in 4-hives. That can be avoided easily know that I know. My biggest hurdle was developing enough drone comb. That problem now also solved. The process is very labour intensive but very effective. Looking in one of the hives our queens are back to work and the reason for the 3-day splits on the OA clean-up treatments. I wanted at least two treatments with OA before the new worker cells are capped. I did check one trap frame that had both drone cells and worker cells. Out of 30 worker cells I had 3 mites for a 10% infestation rate. Just below those cells the drone cells had 100-200% infestation rates. Mites clearly love drone cells. Also, adult mites look to enter within a day maybe 2-days. I could easily see mites sitting on top of larvae yet to be capped. 4-6 mites per cell were not uncommon. During uncapping the older fatter larvae spilled out mites when caps were opened. Younger larvae had mites closer to the bottom. In many cells – some literally filled with small white mites (not counted). I’m not sure if these survive but if they do they would contribute powerful numbers to the exponential curve of mite production in fall. A great experience. I think a project for you without question. There are other benefits. All my hives are now reduced in size of winter. Frames are literally spotless. All cleaned perfectly. It was easy to pull out excess frames to adjust the size of the hives for winter. My guess is most new brood will potentially now be developed for winter survival. All this happened while honey supers remained being filled. I don’t think a drop was lost. Of course drone numbers have dropped off the map. To help mitigate the migration of mites into the hive over the next brood rearing periods I have gone with OA Extended treatment using the towel cloth approach that Randy Olive has worked worth for quite some time. People have found it effective. Being nearly “mite-less” I will have those ongoing from now through September-October. It remains to be seen how effective they may be. I’ll know in late November. Needless-to-say – you earned another coffee!!!!!!! This time a large size. It was you that sent me the image of your queen drone trap. I worked with that to build 4. They worked very well. A few tricks needed but nice tools. I did modify one Lang Medium super where I built queen excluder frames into the box making a cage. Must say I liked it. It reduced any risk of damaging a queen when closing a “clam-shell” trap. However the traps I built are easily handled and can be removed for adding comb and queens. A big thanks to you for the suggestions.

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Vince

      That comment is almost as long as the post 😉

      It sounds as though it has worked very well indeed. The post-OA mite drop is commendably low and the infestation rates in the capped drone brood are reassuringly (as in you trapped them, not that you wouldn’t prefer to see no mites at all) high.

      To avoid reinfestation you’ll be dependent upon your neighbourhood beekeepers being as assiduous as you have been. However, the delayed release towels do look very promising and should help a lot.

      The preference of mites for drone brood is well documented … it’s about 10-fold higher than for worker brood.

      It will be very interesting to observe how well – and for how long – the colony now rears workers going into the winter. If there’s no late season nectar available I’d be giving them syrup to try and encourage the queen to lay strongly for the next 3-4 weeks. With low mite levels now your winter survival should be good. Look after the hives. Strap them down well … it would be a tragedy for them to be knocked over in a gale after all your hard work.

      Congratulations 🙂
      Cheers
      David

      PS I meant to add, I think we’ve seen up to 17 mites in a single capped cell in the lab … that frame came from a hive with many thousands of mites in it. Ewww!

      Reply
      1. Vincent Poulin

        David, just checked – now post queen release 8 days. Very impressive. 3-hives. All queens are laying. Without looking hard one hive had 2 full frames laid up with worker brood – open larvae and just capped. About 6,000 cells by area est. Two had similarly good numbers but circular patterns – so lots of brood coming. Good amounts of non-capped honey in each hive but I’ll take your advice and top all the hives with 2:1. Each hive got 1/2 pollen patty. I removed 2 capped drone frames today. Will get some numbers. 2 years ago I counted 26;mites in one cell. Nearly unbelievable. This time up to 6-7 or so. Going to be an interesting few weeks as summer bees die off but in a few weeks we should see a good number of replacement bees which hopefully are winter bees. A labour intensive effort but if it works I’ll be thrilled. You inspired all of it.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Hi Vince

          Well done!

          The next thing to start thinking about is the winter broodless period. If you’ve got low mites now, if you get lots of winter bees (which you should) then the best start they can get for the season ahead is to slaughter the (or at least as many of the remaining) mites when the colony is broodless.

          There’s always more to do 😉

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
          1. Vince Poulin

            Absolutely, but will have to hit them early unfortunately. We leave on November 3 for a Nepal climb. I’m taking my son and “daughter” for an ascent of Ama Dablam – gone 6-weeks, back on Dec 17. I will do another OA at that time. OK – update: Your may recall from that long post I crushed a queen during installation in one of the traps. That is sorted out will never happen again. But oddly, for my last hive – Hive 4 (seasons best honey producer) I lost the queen. This was a built-in exclosure in a Medium Lang box. She was such an excellent queen. Her last trapping session was so efficient – 2-full med frames laid-up inside the trap. She was released without handling. She just walked off the frame and down into the the box on her own. I closed up the hive went away returned 5-days later to find no marked queen and no eggs in the hive.. All other released queens are laying frantically. I can only think some hive bees may not have recognized her due to being excluded from the colony – but still inside. When release from the trap she may have moved to a part of the hive where her scent was not recognized. Perhaps a mortality factor associated with this method. I re-queened the hive using an adjacent NUC plus gave it 2-frames of capped and uncapped brood to make up for the lost time. Will release her manually today. “Stuff Happens”. This is why you so strongly encourage the make-up of a few NUC’s each year. So valuable. I accept the loss – it is part of the learning curve. That said I don’t see many significant down sides to this method of mite control (yet). A bit more “data” – last 2 drone frames uncapped!! One frame lacking any mites. N=50 uncapped, N=0 mites. The second frame N=50 mites uncapped, N=1 mite. Our German researchers spoke of their work bringing mites down to as low as 1.8% without OA. Looks like this can happen. Next year I will repeat the process. To this end all drone frames have been power hosed and finally cleaned by bees. Ready for winter storage – frozen and wrapped in plastic. For the small bee keeper I think an attractive method. Fair to say labour intensive and some risk. For me much easier next year – maybe some additional building and of course I will start early on making drone comb. I did use plastic – green – drone foundation in frame constructions. Some of those failed miserably – bees just did not like the foundation. Best was small 1″ strip starters. I need to encourage you to take on another project! You have one trap – make up a few traps or work with an internal one using just pieces of queen excluder. Then set up a nice study design.

          2. David Post author

            Hello Vince

            I’m not sure I need any ‘new projects’ as I’m struggling to finish the current ones 😉 What’s more, I already have two queen rearing projects for next year. One brand new and the other a carry-over from this season as I never managed to complete it. The carry-over involves my queen rearing incubator, so I’ve got a lot of time invested in it already.

            Ama Dablam … looks fabulous. I had to look it up, so here’s a picture for others to appreciate:

            Ana Dablam

            Cheers
            David

  8. James

    If workers get rid of their own developing drones then I guess that reduces the possibility that the genes may be passed on (though clearly it’s never guaranteed). Keeping “foreign” drones means there will be some for any of their own virgin queens to mate with in the event that should become necessary (and I guess it means that other bees somewhere might well be looking after their drones, for the same reason). Perhaps they’ve evolved a preference for the latter situation rather than the former. If you can’t mate another colony’s virgin queen, well, them’s the breaks. If you can’t get your own virgin queen mated then it could be goodnight Vienna.

    James

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hi James

      I think the confounding factor here is that drones and queens fly different distances to the mating site. Queens fly a long way, drones do not. I’ve discussed this in posts on drone congregation areas and queen mating distances. Therefore, keeping adult drones in the hive might not actually result in the virgin Q from that hive mating with them.

      I don’t think we yet understand whether adult drones really influence drone production in the colony.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
      1. James

        Yes, though I was aware of it, the variation between queens and drones in terms of flying distance to DCAs hadn’t occurred to me at the time I originally posted, but did later on and I have been idly contemplating it today (whilst making a beekeeping toolbox out of recycled hive components that were beyond repair, as it happens). It strikes me that as drones tend to drift from colony to colony, even if “today” they weren’t likely to fly to a DCA that a queen from the current colony they’re in might, at some point later they may well be.

        On the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever, it just seems to me that there may be good sense in terms of propagating one’s own queen’s genes in looking after interloper drones. If we assume that a queen mating with her own sons is a “Bad Thing(tm)” and there’s a choice to be made between two sets of drones, perhaps preserving drones belonging to this colony, who probably have quite a slim chance of passing on their genes even in the best of times, is a worse choice than preserving drones from other colonies so that virgin queens from this colony will have an improved chance of finding viable mates (or perhaps, mates with whom she can produce viable offspring).

        All speculation, obviously…

        James

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          No harm in speculating 😉

          What’s not clear with me is how far drones drift. They are so dependent upon support from the colony that they can’t just set off into the wild blue yonder in the hope of finding somewhere new. One possibility might be that they follow other drones back from the DCA I suppose.

          Lots we don’t know … and even more that I don’t know 😉
          Cheers
          David

          Reply

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