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The Importance of Drones

While ‘natural beekeepers’ are employed to thinking of a honeybee colony more in terms of its intrinsic value to the natural world than its capability to produce honey for human use, conventional beekeepers as well as the public at large less difficult very likely to associate honeybees with honey. It has been the main cause of the attention presented to Apis mellifera because we began our association with them just a couple thousand in years past.

In other words, I think many people – when they think of it at all – have a tendency to make a honeybee colony as ‘a living system which causes honey’.

Ahead of that first meeting between humans and honeybees, these adaptable insects had flowering plants as well as the natural world largely on their own – more or less the odd dinosaur – well as over a lifetime of tens of millions of years had evolved alongside flowering plants together selected people who provided the best quality and quantity of pollen and nectar for use. We are able to think that less productive flowers became extinct, save for individuals who adapted to using the wind, as an alternative to insects, to spread their genes.

Like those years – perhaps 130 million by a few counts – the honeybee continuously developed into the highly efficient, extraordinarily adaptable, colony-dwelling creature that individuals see and talk with today. By means of a variety of behavioural adaptations, she ensured a higher level of genetic diversity within the Apis genus, among which is propensity of the queen to mate at some distance from her hive, at flying speed at some height from your ground, with a dozen approximately male bees, which may have themselves travelled considerable distances off their own colonies. Multiple mating with strangers from foreign lands assures a diploma of heterosis – fundamental to the vigour from a species – and carries a unique mechanism of choice for the drones involved: just the stronger, fitter drones are you getting to mate.

A silly feature of the honeybee, which adds a species-strengthening edge against your competitors to the reproductive mechanism, is that the male bee – the drone – arrives from an unfertilized egg by the process referred to as parthenogenesis. This means that the drones are haploid, i.e. simply have a bouquet of chromosomes produced from their mother. This in turn signifies that, in evolutionary terms, the queen’s biological imperative of passing it on her genes to generations to come is expressed in her genetic investment in her drones – remembering that her workers cannot reproduce and so are thus a genetic dead end.

So the suggestion I created to the conference was which a biologically and logically legitimate way of regarding the honeybee colony is really as ‘a living system for producing fertile, healthy drones when it comes to perpetuating the species by spreading the genes of the finest quality queens’.

Considering this model of the honeybee colony provides us a totally different perspective, when compared with the typical viewpoint. We can now see nectar, honey and pollen simply as fuels just for this system and also the worker bees as servicing the requirements of the queen and performing every one of the tasks needed to ensure the smooth running with the colony, for that ultimate reason for producing excellent drones, that will carry the genes with their mother to virgin queens from other colonies far away. We can easily speculate for the biological triggers that can cause drones to become raised at peak times and evicted and even wiped out at other times. We are able to consider the mechanisms that will control the numbers of drones as a number of the general population and dictate the other functions they’ve already within the hive. We can imagine how drones appear to be able to uncover their way to ‘congregation areas’, where they seem to gather when expecting virgin queens to feed by, whenever they themselves rarely survive over a couple of months and almost never with the winter. There exists much that we still have no idea and could never understand fully.

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