Other uses for drones (hive 3 always was a bit different…)

Heap of guard bees. Click to enlarge

The wasps probing my hives are being put off by masses of guard bees at the entrances. Watching the way they approach then suddenly veer off, I was struck by this pile of living bees at the entrance to hive 3. These bees are all alive, and they seem calm and happy – no struggling. But why are they piled up in a heap?

The photo reveals what my eye didn’t spot. There are 2 layers of bees. The upper ones are female – guards with stings. The underlayer is drones. It is not the famous “drone exclusion” when the drones are booted out after mating season: everyone is calm and purposeful, and there are only a few drones. I can see two reasons for the stingless drones to be here:

  • They keep the guards warm! Warm bees can launch into the air immediately. On cold days, bees need to sun themselves a bit before taking off.
  • They add to the apparent numbers of guard bees. Fooled me, probably fool wasps. A deterrent.

Propolis and wax entrance barrier

It’s odd that this is the only one of the 4 hives that does this though. Today I rechecked. It’s colder, earlier in the day and there is a bit of rain so the guards (and wasps) were not yet present, but I noticed something else different about hive 3, which its neighbours lack – they’ve built an entrance reducer. Unlike other times I have seen this, the colony is strong, and it is not under attack.

There is one other thing worth noting here. A couple of the bees are holding their wings out in a V. I’ve seen this with a few other bees on this hive’s landing board recently. It’s a sign of a viral disease, but there’s nothing I can do about it so I am leaving them to sort it out. One way bees do this is that bees which feel unwell instinctively leave the hive to die outside, and the queen lays replacement eggs. They only live a few weeks anyway and the queen can lay 1500 eggs a day; so whilst ruthless, this slight speeding up of the egg production line is efficient at removing infection.

Observations on wasps and bees

It’s interesting that as soon as the ivy started flowering here, the wasp attacks ended. It is easier to get nectar from ivy than steal honey from a defended hive. I assume they will return later in the season, as other food supplies disappear.

The ivy is densely covered in wasps, flies, hoverflies, I even saw a hornet. Yet the wasps are not attacking the other insects. Now they have finished raising young, their priority is not protein, but keeping their bodies going with carbohydrates.

There are no honeybees on the ivy. Bees forage up to 3 miles from the hive, I think they have found a better food source: they only seem to forage on ivy as a last resort. It forms poor quality honey, which crystallises rock-hard in the cells. Wasps and small flies have a short flying range – wasps are very territorial and risk fights if they go into other nests’ territory – and have to forage on what is nearby.

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3 Responses to Other uses for drones (hive 3 always was a bit different…)

  1. Emily Scott says:

    I love it when the bees make entrance reducers. You were clever to think of the reasons why the drones might be underneath like that, makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lindylou says:

    Clearly written by a bee observer and well put to give the bees their own right to keeping their home healthy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jen3972 says:

    I love it when drones are shown to have uses other than mating – it seems to me that it is obvious that they would have a role within the hive but it is only ever going to be observational beekeepers who spot them!


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