As we mentioned before, bees function as one whole super-organism. Each member has a specific role that is equally important. But when we talk about bees we tend to focus on the queen bee or the worker bees and we somehow rarely mention the not very active, but still much needed male bees, namely, the drones.
Drones are haploid which means that they only carry genetic material from their mother. For, they are born out of unfertilized eggs. Unlike their sisters the worker bees, who have a full set of 32 chromosomes, they only have 16. Basically, they have a grandfather, but they don’t have a father. Which in turn puts a greater responsibility on their part to hold all their genetic information in every single egg making each drone progeny consisting of only clones.
The major role that drones execute is to mate with a mother, or queen bee, and thus enrich the genotype. Interestingly enough, one drone is not sufficient, for the queen bee is seeking her colony’s best interest and is aiming for a larger genetic pool. The need for multiple male partners is justified by a bigger diversity and thus a greater resistance to diseases. It takes anything between 10 and 20 drones to complete the mating process. At the end of the day, the queen returns to her colony carrying only one drone vail; that of the last one that she has mated with. Depending on the colony’s specific needs, the queen bee automatically selects the respective drone genes.
Bees are practical creatures and they never partake in activities that are not crucial to the colony’s well-being. As soon as drones have fulfilled the vital role to fill the queen’s spermatheca, the organ where she can store the genetic material for years, they are no longer a wanted guest in or around the hive. They consume too much honey and they occupy too much space. So, as the mating season comes to an end, the worker bees chase the drones away leaving only a thousand just in case the colony embarks on an emergency swarming. A rather noble, yet a bit sad destiny they have.