National Geographic : 1959 Aug
Guard Unceremoniously Bounces a Murdered Drone from the Hive Playboys of the bee world, drones live a life of carefree luxury. Though unequipped to make honey, to build comb, or even to defend the col ony, the pompous males swagger about the hive, bullying their smaller sisters and demanding serv ice. The workers submit, pampering and groom ing the drones for the queen's mating flight. But a terrible justice descends on the luckless wastrels after their queen has mated. Nipped, abused, and starved by their former nursemaids, the terrified drones flee the colony or cower in corners where they are killed. A worker hustles this carcass from the hive. the social wasps catch caterpillars and other insects, helpfully pre-chewing the meat for their young. Far more consequential than honey making is the pollination of plants and here, too, the honeybee surpasses her relatives. Usually she seeks out just one variety of pollen on each collecting trip and just one kind of nectar to turn into honey. This methodical way of working makes her uniquely useful to agri culture. Orchard Owners Rent Bee Colonies Many insects carry pollen, but they often traipse from flower to flower indiscriminately, and all the pollen that doesn't reach a plant of its own kind goes to waste. No wonder orchard owners each spring rent 8,000 honey bee colonies in New York State alone to assure the largest possible crop of apples.* Like human beings, bees seem most con tented when they are busy. On warm, balmy days when there is a good flow of nectar, they are most tractable. They start early, work late, attend to their business, and avoid trouble. About the only thing they are likely to resent is interference. Anything that blocks their flight by getting in front of their hive is apt to be stung. Bees become ill tempered if the flow of 196 nectar stops. The buckwheat plant yields heavily in the morning and when it slackens later in the day, the bees get cross. A rain storm has the same effect. Bees really go berserk when their honey is scarce and someone leaves a full comb exposed in the apiary. As soon as scout bees discover this treasure, look out! Quickly the comb seethes with thousands of fighting bees, and the ground is littered with the dead. Thus frenzied bees on the warpath rob each other's hives and sting every living thing they can find. But workers usually preserve sting ing for defense; an attack kills the bee unless she can withdraw her stinger, which she can not do from human flesh (page 198). No matter what the day-to-day mood of the worker bees, sooner or later they are sure to dispose of the drones. But first, for a few months each season, these male bees are tol erated in a monarchy of females, even though their usefulness is limited. The drone has no glands to produce royal jelly or wax. His tongue is unsuited for gathering nectar. There are no pollen baskets on his legs. He doesn't even have a sting, although he buzzes so loudly when disturbed that to the uninitiated he ap * See "Man's Winged Ally, the Busy Honeybee," by James I. Hambleton, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April, 1935.