• Last modified 1562 days ago (Jan. 8, 2015)


Male bees left out in the cold, replaced in spring

Severely cold weather threatens bee survival


Staff writer

Imagine being a male bee, just doing his job, working hard to propagate the species, and then being abandoned. What kind of reward is that?

Drones, or male bees that have survived the mating season are pushed out of beehives by the worker bees when autumn arrives and are left to die.

There is a reason to the madness. The large-bodied males are no longer needed and would unnecessarily use up precious food resources for the long winter ahead.

The remaining sterile bees cluster together in balls inside the hive to conserve body heat and protect the queen in their midst.

“If you would put your ear to the side of a hive, you would hear a buzzing sound,” beekeeper Debbie McSweeney of Peabody said. “That’s because they are flapping their wings to stay warm.”

They shift positions from time to time and live off the honey stored in the hive.

Severely cold weather is a threat to their survival because it makes it difficult for them to move.

“If the bees can’t get to the honey, they will starve,” McSweeney said, “but if just one bee can reach it, she can feed all the others.”

On days when the temperature rises above 50 degrees or so, the bees may swarm briefly to clean the hive, defecate, and pick up bits of pollen. That is also when McSweeney checks the food supply in the hives. If it is low, she makes a “candyboard” of boiled sugar and water and lays it underneath the cover.

She said the weather stayed so cold for so long last winter that half of her bees starved.

“Mother Nature is in control,” she said. “You just hope enough can survive to produce honey again.”

As the temperature moderates, the queen bee begins to lay eggs, one to a cell. After four days, the eggs hatch and produce larvae that are fed by worker bees for several days. Then each cell is capped with wax the bees produce from their own bodies.

More than 20 days later, the mature bees emerge from their cells. Some are drones, some are worker bees, and a few are females. They clean their bodies and are ready to start procreating and collecting pollen for another productive season.

It is nature’s way.

Last modified Jan. 8, 2015