Queen Bee Closeup

Photo by Claire Woods used under Creative Commons

It may come as a surprise to most people – even experienced beekeepers – that when a queen bee mates with a drone bee from another colony, she is essentially having sex with another queen bee.

Well, perhaps this isn’t 100% accurate, but please let me explain…

To begin, it’s important to understand how drone bees are created. Drones are the male bees of a colony and their only purpose (as far as we know) is to mate with a queen from another colony. Drones hatch from unfertilized eggs. When the queen lays an egg in a cell, she dictates whether it will become a female (worker) bee by fertilizing the egg with sperm she collected on her mating flight. If she doesn’t fertilize the egg, it will become a drone.

Fast forward 24 days, and the unfertilized egg emerges from his cell as a drone bee. Since this drone was created without a “father”, its genetics are made up of 100% of it’s mother’s genes. The drone is a direct product of only the queen.

From this point, when a drone then mates with a queen from another colony on her mating flight, he is depositing sperm that contains the genes of his mother. It’s essentially as if the two queens were mating directly!

There’s probably a joke in here somewhere about women ruling the world, but us beekeepers already know that. 😉