The role of the robust and amiable drone in the colony has aroused much speculation. A glance into the hive during the summer months would show his large form loafing around like an indolent teenager, requiring to be fed and tended by the industrious worker bees, whilst he, seemingly, gives nothing in return. In addition, the cell from which he has emerged would have taken up space which could have housed valuable worker brood, and because of its larger size would have been an attractive prospect for the varroa mite.
Accordingly one could suppose that the drones’ sole purpose in life is one of reproduction, and that, as only a few drones ever mate with the queen, they are mostly expendable, and their numbers could be reduced with benefit to the colony and the beekeeper.
All this has encouraged many modern beekeepers to reduce the amount of drone brood in their hives by as much as 75% in some cases. However, the bees are still inclined to thwart these intentions by building drone comb into all sorts of odd places, including the inner wall of the hive.
But beekeepers who have delved a little deeper into the usefulness of drones have reached different conclusions. By developing a sensitivity to the mood and ambience of the hive they have detected a raising of the bees’ morale when drones are present. The drones are also believed to assist in regulating the temperature in the hive, crucial for the rearing of brood. The vigorous laying ability of the queen, and even the possibility of her mating at all in these difficult times, have been attributed to the presence of drones in numbers unhampered by the beekeeper.
Furthermore, recent observations have concluded that, although groups of drones congregate in specific locations to maximise their chances of being present at the nuptial flight of a virgin queen, the bees themselves may regulate overall drone numbers across a wide geographical area, with each individual colony contributing to the balance.
As beekeepers we can never hope to replicate such fine tuning. So it would seem prudent to honour the wisdom of the bees, and to respect their innate ability to provide optimum conditions for their needs - and therefore, by association, for our needs too.