I doubt that most people realize they almost certainly have ever seen a drone honeybee. The male’s only purpose is to mate with the queen. They don’t collect pollen and nectar, that’s the job of their sister worker bees, so you’ll never see one flitting from flower to flower.
Photo by kind permission of Chrissie Jamieson
Even if you do see one, you needn’t worry about getting stung, they don’t possess a sting, they have no need for one. When people, particularly men, hear that the male honey bees have no work to do apart from mating with the queen, they think it sounds like an appealing existence. Hanging around the hive all day, eating honey, watching the ‘girls’ working sounds great. However before you get envious you might consider that if they mate, they only mate once, then they die.
They hatch from an unfertilized egg, three days after it’s laid. The newly hatched larva is fed royal jelly for two days, then gradually fed a mixture of pollen and nectar, sometimes called bee’s bread. On the sixth day it is weaned off royal jelly. The bee’s bread is fed for about another four days after which the cell is capped. The metamorphosis last from day ten until about day 24, depending on temperature, when the adult drone emerges.
They don’t become fertile until around day 38. I tend to think of the time before then as the ‘teenage’ days. Once mature he will commence mating flights.
They leave the hive and congregate in quite large numbers, in the air 50 or 60 feet above the ground waiting for a local queen bee to arrive.
When she does arrive many will mate with her. On a mating flight the queen will mate with an average of 10 – 12 males, but possibly as many as 40 times.
When he has fulfilled his purpose the male falls to the ground and dies with a few hours. If they don’t achieve the honour of mating with a queen their days are numbered.
When autumn arrives and the colony is preparing for winter the males are discarded. Since none will be needed until next spring, they are taken to the hive entrance by the workers and simply thrown out. If they were allowed to stay, they would just be a liability, one more mouth to feed in the lean days of winter. The guard bees don’t allow them back inside and they die of dehydration or hunger within a few days.
Drone and worker brood are different because the drone is larger so the developing pupae needs more room. You can see in the photo below that the drone brood on the left has domed caps on the cells whereas the cappings over the worker brood which is on the right is almost flat.