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Not Brotherly Love

'Tis the season for brotherly love, but not in the bee hive.

As the honey-gathering season ends and the weather turns colder, the worker bees (infertile females) push their brothers--the drones--out of the hive. Drones are of no use to the colony in the winter. They're another mouth to feed. (The sole function of the drones are to mate with the queen.)

So how are the worker bees able to shove the much-larger drones from the hive?

"The sisters quit feeding their brothers so that they're lighter and easier to push," said UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.

UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey admits to having a soft spot for the drones.  “They’re cold and hungry, sitting there on the doorstep and wanting to go back in. They’re attacked and they die.  Well, it’s a matriarchal society.”

It is.

A matriarchal society in the season of brotherly love. 

Dead bees
Dead bees

DEAD BEES--Drones are pushed out of the hive, cold and hungry, as the honey-gathering season ends and the weather turns colder. Some of these bees are drones (males) and some are worker bees (infertile females). This photo was taken Dec. 20, 2008. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, December 26, 2008 at 6:49 PM


Do queens mate only with their own strain, I.e. Italian. Are the bees in a hive all similar in their colors and markings

Posted by M. Vandenberg.enberg on April 10, 2013 at 1:23 PM

Thank you for your question. Short answers are "No" and "No."  
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology: "Honey bee queens will mate with drones of other 'races' or subspecies,' if they fly at the same time of day. Otherwise, the bees mate pretty true to race.  
"The color of the hairs on honey bees is the under genetic control of genes from both the queen and the drones with which she mated. Since a queen usually mates with 12-20 drones, having color variation is fairly common in a single colony population."

Posted by Kathy Keatley Garvey on April 10, 2013 at 3:37 PM

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