The Importance of Drones

While ‘natural beekeepers’ are employed to thinking about a honeybee colony more in terms of its intrinsic value for the natural world than its ability to produce honey for human use, conventional beekeepers and the public in particular less difficult more prone to associate honeybees with honey. This has been the main cause of the eye directed at Apis mellifera since we began our connection to them just a couple of thousand in years past.

In other words, I believe a lot of people – if they think of it at all – often think of a honeybee colony as ‘a living system which causes honey’.

Prior to that first meeting between humans and honeybees, these adaptable insects had flowering plants and the natural world largely to themselves – more or less the odd dinosaur – as well as over a length of ten million years had evolved alongside flowering plants and had selected those that provided the best and volume of pollen and nectar for use. We are able to think that less productive flowers became extinct, save if you adapted to using the wind, rather than insects, to spread their genes.

For all of those years – perhaps 130 million by a few counts – the honeybee continuously turned out to be the highly efficient, extraordinarily adaptable, colony-dwelling creature that we see and speak to today. By means of a amount of behavioural adaptations, she ensured a higher amount of genetic diversity from the Apis genus, among the actual propensity of the queen to mate at a long way from her hive, at flying speed at some height from the ground, using a dozen possibly even male bees, which have themselves travelled considerable distances using their own colonies. Multiple mating with strangers from outside the country assures a qualification of heterosis – vital to the vigour of any species – and carries a unique mechanism of choice for the drones involved: exactly the stronger, fitter drones ever get to mate.

A rare feature from the honeybee, which adds a species-strengthening edge against their competitors to the reproductive mechanism, is the male bee – the drone – exists from an unfertilized egg by the process known as parthenogenesis. Which means the drones are haploid, i.e. simply have one set of chromosomes derived from their mother. As a result implies that, in evolutionary terms, top biological imperative of passing on her genes to our children and grandchildren is expressed in their own genetic acquisition of her drones – remembering that her workers cannot reproduce and are thus a genetic stalemate.

Therefore the suggestion I created to the conference was that the biologically and logically legitimate method of regarding the honeybee colony is as ‘a living system for creating fertile, healthy drones when considering perpetuating the species by spreading the genes of the greatest quality queens’.

Considering this type of the honeybee colony provides for us a wholly different perspective, when compared to the traditional viewpoint. We can easily now see nectar, honey and pollen simply as fuels with this system along with the worker bees as servicing the requirements of the queen and performing all of the tasks needed to make sure the smooth running in the colony, for that ultimate purpose of producing good quality drones, that may carry the genes of their mother to virgin queens from other colonies far away. We are able to speculate for the biological triggers that induce drones to become raised at peak times and evicted or even wiped out at other times. We are able to think about the mechanisms that may control the numbers of drones like a amount of the entire population and dictate what other functions they’ve already in the hive. We can easily imagine how drones seem to be able to get their method to ‘congregation areas’, where they appear to assemble when looking forward to virgin queens to pass through by, when they themselves rarely survive more than three months and almost never with the winter. There is much we still are not aware of and may never completely understand.

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