Global Warming and Bee Behavior

  There are a lot of statements such as: "In the autumn the drones are evicted" or "drones are killed by the workers in the autumn."   Are these statements still correct?

On December 14, 2006 the temperature in Grahamsville, NY was unseasonably high and I saw two unusual situations for this period of time: flying Italian and Russian drones and winter eviction of drones.

  December 15, 2006 Eviction of Drones

Click on the pictures to view clips.
  Flying Drones(first 2 seconds)
December 14, 2006:

Flying Italian Drones
December 15, 2006:

Winter Eviction of Drones
December 14, 2006:

  Possible Explanations:

1. Autumn supersedure impulse: bee colony keeps drones for a new queen. During the spring time, the old or defected queen will lay eggs and then the queen will be replaced by the bees.

2. Autumn queenless colony: bee colony keeps drones with the purpose to resolve this situation during the spring. Bees will steal eggs from other hives or will kidnap a flying queen from another colony.
Such behavior of bees was confirmed by Jim Kile of Woodbourne, NY.  He is a part of American beekeeping history in the making - 70 years in the beekeeping business!

But these first two scenarios do not explain the situation when bees evicted more than 200 drones from 5 hives on December 14, December 15 and December 18.
Such unusual behavior of bees repeated on December 24th, 2006 and January 06, 2007.
Perhaps the bees resolved the queen problem during the months of October and November.

3. Global warming: unusual autumn blooming of flowers (goldenrods, wild asters) occurred due to warmer temperature. As a result, bees from five hives may have changed their behavior.

December 18, 2006
Boris Romanov

Some comments:

"As with many issues of honey bee biology and management, there is the 'text book' answer and then there is the messy reality of nature (as such, it is often said that our bees never read the text book!). While drones are generally evicted in the fall, colonies will not necessarily get rid of all of them. In fact, some beekeepers use drones and drone brood as a sign of colony health and nutritional state, even in the dead of winter. So much for the text book.
"As for your possible scenarios, it is unlikely that colonies keep drones around to mate with replacement queens, as such supersedure queens do not mate with drones from other hives and not those in their own hive (which would be their brothers). It is also unlikely that queenless colonies keep drones 'just in case' (although they may produce them if they have no queen) even if they could steal eggs from other colonies (which they cannot). As far as global warming is concerned, I wouldn't think that this is necessarily evidence for that. Rather, I think it is an excellent example of how plastic nature can be to take advantage of unusual environmental conditions and opportunities (i.e., unusually late or early pollen sources, etc...).
"My guess: you have some very healthy, strong colonies that were nutritionally able to keep their drones around longer than the text book suggests."  David R. Tarpy,  December 21, 2006
Assistant Professor and Extension Apiculturist
Department of Entomology, Campus Box 7613
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7613  TEL: (919) 515-1660

"I am not confident that there is one or possibly even two or three possible reasons for the Drones you have been seeing as of this date right before Christmas, 2006. Drones are a biological imperative for a colony of Honey Bees. Drones are the means to keep alive that genetic component of the queen laying the unfertilized egg to share with virgins as they venture into a Drone Congregation Area (DCA). Drones are important but usually are first or second in removal or destruction when the colony is under stress because they are not strategically valuable enough to devote resources to retaining them under certain conditions. At this time of year we have several things going on that tell these Honey Bees that it is time to consider colony changes. One of these is the shortening of days as fall and winter approach. Honey Bees respond to this change in day length by producing physiologically different workers that are designed to last through a long cold winter for several months. Different winter drones are not produced. Loss of consistent nectar and pollen sources is another change for the colony as winter approaches either from the end of the flowering season or temperature restrictions that prohibit foraging by the colony. The colony’s genetic variability many times determines how aggressively they remove or cull out those individuals that are unimportant for overwintering. The Drones will die eventually even if not physically pulled out as the colony clusters to stay warm. The drones are not fed and succumb to cold temperatures as they are rotated out and excluded from the warmer regions of the cluster. Drones are fragile and the best thing they do is die.
"Now for your questions:
1. Unless there is pollen or nectar coming in drones are too easily raised to keep them over winter. In the South drones are tolerated through winter as there is generally always a little something blooming. In Florida we loose drones in the middle of summer as it is so hot that this is when we have a lack of flowers and no resources available. Drones are dragged out and worker and drone eggs are eaten to conserve resources.
2. Bees do not move eggs around or kidnap queens. I think it was just time in your region for the drag the drones’ impulse to engage.
3. If warming resulted in pollen and nectar sources then drones would be tolerated longer. Honey Bees are highly adaptable and flexible survivors. They exist just about from one Pole to another and every where in-between. If it is warmer or colder in your area they will respond accordingly without fore thought because their species have been through other “Global” warming and cooling periods as this happens regularly according to the record regardless of what the media says. They will be here long after we are gone."   G. W. Hayes, Jr.  December 21, 2006
Assistant Chief, Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection
Apiary Inspection Section, Division of Plant Industry
P.O. Box 147100 Gainesville FL 32614-7100, (352) 372-3505 ext 128

"I confess that I'm not sure whether or not workers actively evict drones in the fall, or when conditions become difficult. This is probably something that needs to be studied more closely."
December 21, 2006,  Thomas D. Seeley
Professor of Biology and Chairman
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853, office 607 254-4301, lab 607 275-9566

"The presence of drones in wintering colonies depends in part on location. Colonies in the south tend to hold more drones than colonies in the north. Certainly Russian colonies hold more drones than Italian colonies. However, stronger colonies and queenless colonies will hold drones. The books are also accurate. The average colony will purge itself of all or most of its drones in the fall."
December 21, 2006,   Dr. Thomas E. Rinderer
Agricultural Research Service, USDA

  January 06, 2007 Eviction of Drones

Unsuccessful drones eviction January 06, 2007
Click on the picture to view clip:

  January 7-8, 2007: Finally, just before the arrival of winter cold, all remaining drones were evicted. In essence then, the behavior of bees did not change drastically. Drone eviction was merely delayed due to unseasonably warm temperature.

March 2007: First spring colony inspection showed that the queens were alive and were laying eggs. This evidence disproves one of the scenarios proposed above, which suggested that the drones were not evicted in the fall as a result of a dead or damaged queen.

  December 2007: Late eviction of drones repeated this winter again! During the second and the third week of the month, approximately 100 Russian drones were evicted from one of the hives:

Hive #9 with Russian bees is here

In addition, on December 29, in the middle of the day, the temperature was unseasonably warm (15C/59F) and approximately 30 Russian drones were evicted from hive # 9 during the course of several hours. Perhaps this was the last massive drone eviction for this winter. Also, I would like to note that a cold front arrived on January 2nd, 2008.
I wonder if the bees anticipated the advance of extremely cold weather when evicting the drones?

  "A bitterly cold air mass has taken up residence across the eastern half of the nation." (January 02,2008 - from

  Very late (for my ares) nectar collection: November 10, 2015

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