honey bee behavior

A huddle of drones tries to stay warm

Although I’ve seen many evicted drones, I’ve never seen a huddle of drones quite like this. Around here, drones are usually evicted beginning in August. I often see them struggling with workers on the landing board and then, after they lose, they wind up in the grass below the hive.

In the following days, I often see the drones crawling listlessly up a blade of grass or wrestling with a yellowjacket. A few days after that, the dead ones begin to reek. To me, a pile of dead drones smells a lot like an AFB infestation, so I end up checking the brood frames just in case.

Late to leave the hive

This huddle of drones was photographed by Debbie Fyda in Ohio. You can see the hive openings to the right where the workers continue to come and go. Because these drones were evicted late in the year, they clustered together for warmth, just to the left of the entrances. Why were they evicted so late in the year? I don’t know for sure, but I assume the lateness was caused by the erratic weather patterns that affected many parts of the country. Something in the strange weather may have given the workers a false cue—but that’s just a guess.

I agree with Debbie that it’s kind of sad to watch the drones die. On the other hand, that is the way the system works. When I see the drones being tossed out, I know the colony is preparing for winter by doing what it must.

Honey Bee Suite

Evicted drones gathering together to stay warm.

Evicted drones gathering together to stay warm. © Debbie Fyda.

With no food and no shelter, drones don't have a lot of options.

With no food and no shelter, drones don’t have a lot of options. © Debbie Fyda.

Workers continue to come and go while the drones huddle and die.

Workers continue to come and go while the drones huddle and die. © Debbie Fyda.

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  • Where I live, on the eastern most point of North America in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, drones are plentiful too. Most of them are usually long gone by now. It has me more concerned about winter feeding.

    Do drones eat honey themselves, or are they fed honey by the workers?

    We had our first snowfall day. I hope that triggers a mass eviction.

    • Phillip,

      As far as I know, the drones beg for food from the workers. I don’t know if the workers keep feeding them in winter or not.

  • Hey.

    In London, UK the weather was similarly erratic this year and I seen drones in the beginning of December in two of my hives. They were still allowed to get in to the hive. I found it really strange too.


  • I wonder if it would be possible to house these drones in a nuke with some provisions?

    Might not be useful in most cases but it might be helpful if you need to start breeding queens in early spring.

    Not sure any of them would survive or if they’d be fit for breeding but it would be interesting to look into all this.

    • Craig,

      The lifespan of most workers and drones is about 4 to 6 weeks. Diutinus bees, also called winter bees, are workers that may live 4 to 6 months in order to see the colony thru winter. They have special fat bodies that allow them to do this. Drones that are safe within the winter colony may live a little longer than six weeks, but that would be unusual. I read somewhere that a single drone may live up to 3-4 months if he is lucky…or unlucky, depending on your point of view. In any case, you would also need workers to feed them all winter. In short, those drones will be useless for spring breeding, even if some made it till then.

      • Rusty,

        I suspect this reply was written before you researched your latest post on drone life spans.

        Given the info you presented in that post, I suspect that drones could very well live through the winter… if the conditions were set up properly.

        (I’m thinking that a nuc filled with honey, possibly kept in a greenhouse, where it may get cool enough to keep them calm but not enough to keep them locked in a cluster long term. )

        The questions I’d have is how they’d behave when spring came and whether they’d still have viable sperm.

        I don’t know what use could come of this. As you point out it would be unlikely that they’d be useful for breeding. But if it DID work it might be quite a boon to those who need queens to make early splits and such. Maybe give the new colonies a couple of extra weeks to build up in the spring.

        • Craig,

          In one of those references I read that the viability of their sperm drops off quickly, but now that I’m trying to find that passage again, I can’t.

  • Here in central New Hampshire, U.S., I seem to still have drones in my colony. It is mid-December, and nighttime temps have dropped as low as -11F. I find them as part of the normal die-off behind the mouseguard.

  • I was out in the bee yard yesterday and I saw the same thing, lots of drones on the landing board. There must have been 25-30 drones there. The temperature was a balmy 45 degrees here in Santa Fe, New Mexico and our elevation is 7100 feet.

    The drones would go in the entrance through the holes in the mouse guard and immediately be evicted by one of the guard bees. I have not seen drones this late in the season being evicted, a week before Christmas? This is CRAZY!

    I felt sorry for the drones knowing their fate, but as you said, “that’s the system.”

    • BJ,

      I wish I had paid more attention in past years, but I don’t ever remember seeing so many drones so late. It is crazy, as you say.

  • I’m admiring Debbie’s corrugated sheeting to foil curious critters. Brilliant! I’ve had run-ins with skunks attacking my colonies leaving those sucked-dry balls of bees behind…this would have worked very well I bet.

  • Hey Rusty, I am hoping you can answer a question for me. I am not a beekeeper but I have a colony in my tree. They’ve been there for almost 2 years and I am completely fascinated by them. :). I live in Florida where the weather has been wonky. It was 80’s for a couple weeks, lows in 60’s. And then for the last few days highs in the low 60’s and the lows in the 35-45 range. It is now going to be warming up starting today. This is the first time in the 2 years that I have noticed all the drones on the ground. It is March 1st. A little late to throw the boys out isn’t it? Should I be concerned or is it just part of what they do? Are they confused by the weather? Do they leave any behind for Spring? There’s no way of helping the drones is there? I just feel so bad for them. Thank you for your time!

    • Sabene,

      The workers do a good job of regulating the number of drones. They may have thought those dipping temperatures were a bad sign because all those drones eat a lot of food. I wouldn’t worry about it. When your bees want more drones, it won’t take long to produce them. Since the average life expectancy of a drone is only four to six weeks anyway, I don’t think it is cause for alarm.

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