Are drones from one honey bee queen all clones?

Are drones from one honey bee queen all clones?

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The Honey Bee queen lays eggs that develop into worker bees (female) if she fertilizes the egg. If she does not fertilize the egg, it will develop into a drone (male).

The drone only has the queen's DNA so are all drones exact copies of each other, ie clones, or is there some other mechanism that will make each brother slightly different?

The queen is diploid; the drones are haploid. Meaning the queen has two copies of each chromosome, and the drones have only one. So for each gene, the queen has two copies and passes one of those copies on to the drone.

This means the drones are different for exactly the same reason female bee siblings, or human siblings, are different: because every parent has two copies of a gene, that are often different, and passes only one of those to their offspring.

If the queen were homozygous for every allele, i.e. the two copies of all her genes were identical, then the drones would indeed be genetically identical. But this is true as well of the children of two completely homozygous parents.

See this page on inbred laboratory strains of animals (animals which are inbred to the point they and their offspring are genetically identical to each other):

F1 hybrids, i.e. the first-generation cross between two inbred strains, are isogenic but not homozygous.

In other words, if you have two parents who are genetically different, but have two identical copies for all of their chromosomes, their children will be isogenic (have exactly the same genes); they all have two copies of their genes, got one copy from their father and one from their mother, and those two copies might be different from each other (their mother and father have different alleles), but all the children got those same two copies because they're the only copies their mother and father have.

Drone Parent Numbers, Fibonacci Sequence (Golden Mean)

Leonard di Pisa, alias Fibonacci (son of Bonaccio) 1170 - 1250 was an Italian mathematician. Leonardo's father was nicknamed Bonacci - the good natured one, and so Leonardo became known as Fibonacci - son of the good natured one. He was famed for introducing the decimal number system into Europe. He has given his name to the sequence of numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 21 34. 144, 233.

He invented the sequence when investigating a problem about the growth of a population of rabbits. While the model was not particularly realistic, it was the first of its kind. It is referred to as the "Fibonacci sequence" and will be familiar to anyone with a background in maths. If you study the sequence you will see that each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. It is a recursive sequence where the first two values are 1 and each successive term is obtained by adding together the two previous terms. Thus, the sequence begins 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, .. that is 1+1=2, then 1+2=3, then 2+3=5 etc.

However at this stage I am sure you are asking yourself what this article has to do with bees and why it should be in 'An Beachaire' at all. The answer is that this sequence of numbers is found in nature. When Fibonacci was asked why he studied these numbers and their ratio he replied: "Someday these numbers will unlock the secret of nature and will explain why a drone does not have a father". Male bees (drones) are produced from a queen's unfertilised egg (parthenogenesis) so that a male bee has only one parent - a mother and no father. The female worker bees have two parents a male (drone) and a female (queen). The Fibonacci sequence is a great representation of this reproductive pattern. The ancestry of both drone and worker is shown below.

You can see from the above table that if you start by imagining one male or worker bee you can calculate how many parents, how many grandparents and great grandparents he or she would have etc. You will see that the number of bees of each generation follow a Fibonacci series exactly, both for males and females.

Are drones from one honey bee queen all clones? - Biology

In my previous blog, I spoke about the Kinship theory. This theory states that the more relatedness there is between a group of individuals, the more likely to exhibit altruistic behavior the individuals are to be. Honeybee sisters share 75% of the same genetic material. This genetic similarity is what drives the honeybees to take care of the social group above the care of themselves.

Biology Review

Going back to high school biology, we know we are all comprised of segments of DNA. This DNA contains all of the genetic material that was handed down from our parents. As humans, we are Diploids. We get half of our chromosomes from our mother and half from our father. In total, humans have 46 Chromosomes (23 pairs). 22 of these pairs are autosomes (look the same in males and females), and the last one is a sex chromosome.

Of each of the sets of chromosomes we get from our parents, 50% of the material handed down from each parent is a copy of their genetic makeup. The other 50% are random combinations of genes (Mendell’s Law of Independent Assortment) that come together during meiosis. Meiosis is reduction division. From each parent, we get 1 set of chromosomes. During meiosis, the parental cells are divided by half so that in each egg and each sperm, there is only one set of chromosomes that will be paired together to form offspring.

Genes are distinct sequences of nucleotides forming parts of these chromosomes, and Alleles are specific forms or variants of genes located at specific positions on specific chromosomes. Different Alleles result in the different traits we exhibit. We get one Allele from each parent. That makes up the genotype. One of the Alleles we receive will be dominant and the other recessive. The dominant Allele is what will show up. This is called a phenotype. An example would be eye color. If our mother passed on a blue eye color recessive gene and our father passed on a brown eye dominant gene, even though we have both allele’s, we will have brown eyes.

Honey Bee Genetics

Honeybees have 32 Chromosomes. They get 16 from their mother (the Queen), and 16 from their father. The Drone is haploid, and only carries one set of chromosomes he received from his mother. The drones sperm does not undergo reduction division, therefore, the Drone passes on 100% of his genetic material to his daughters. The Queen, however, had a mother and a father, and during meiosis, her cells do undergo reduction division. Therefore, she passes 50% of her genetic material.

Here is a visual representation:

As you can see from the charts above, the worker bees share 25% of their mother’s genetic makeup, and 100% of their fathers. This makes them 75% related.

The Queen mates with an average of 15 Drones. Each egg she decides to fertilize gets a sperm donated from her spermatheca. So there will only be one Maternal genetic line in a hive (unless there has been a queen replacement), however there may be multiple paternal genetic lines.

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see different traits exhibited. There are bees with a dark colored abdomen like Carniolan, and lighter Italian bees.

The biology of individuals

There are three types of individuals in a honey bee colony: female workers, female queens, and males often called drones (Figures 1-3). The fact that there are two different types of female is an example of what is called a caste – a functionally different form of the same sex. One often reads that workers, queens, and drones constitute three honey bee castes. This is not true they constitute two sexes, the females of which are divided into two castes.

Mixing vs. Cloning

A queen's eggs contain 16 chromosomes. Thus, since she herself has 32 chromosomes (remember, as a female she has chromosomes from both her mother and father), she cannot "squeeze" all her 32 chromosomes into each egg. This means that eggs from a queen have a variety of combinations of chromosomes, from the queen and the sperm-donating drone.

Compare this with the drone. He has 16 chromosomes and his sperm can contain just that same number. And so, each sperm created by the drone is identical, since they all have the same 16 chromosomes. This makes for the creation of clones! Drones produce clones.

Some Bees Know How to Bust a Move

Scientists have recently discovered that honey bees communicate using an incredibly advanced maneuver known as the waggle dance. Using a series of movements and shakes, a worker bee can accurately communicate the location of a point of nectar she recently discovered. She&rsquoll reveal two things using her body language: direction of the nectar source and distance from the hive. Moving in a circle, she will vibrate her abdomen. The time it takes to complete one circuit indicates the distance from the hive, and the direction in which she waggles indicates the angle of the nectar in relation to the sun.

Check out this video to see the waggle dance in action.

Tanner Felbinger is a current sophomore at the University of Florida. She&rsquos an Entomology & Nematology major with a minor in Sustainability and plans to attend grad school for Entomology after she completes her undergraduate degree. At school, Tanner is involved in the Entomology Club, teaches group fitness classes at the campus gyms, and is an ambassador for the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She is an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Phil Koehler&rsquos Urban Entomology lab and focuses on control methods for bed bugs. When she&rsquos not in class, Tanner enjoys being outdoors, listening to music, and practicing yoga.

I am doing honeybee studies and need to dissect out the hypopharyngeal glands, salivary glands, and if possible the corporum allatum. Is there a detailed protocol (preferrably with images) of how to dissect these structures?

Well, you are not likely to find written instructions for these dissections. However, excellent digrams or plates of the salivary and hypopharyngeal glands can be found in Anatomy and Dissection of the Honeybee by H.A. Dade (publisher: International Bee Research Association ISBN: 0900149981). Also, Zachary Huang at Michigan State University has photographs of some of these glands on his bee anatomy page.
The corpora allata are much tougher to dissect and locate. Let’s start with the salivary and hypopharyngeal &hellip

About The Drone Bee 

10 Fast Facts About Honey Bee Drones

  • They may live for just a few weeks or up to 4 months.
  • They mate with the honey bee queen in the air - but only 10 to 20 drones get the opportunity!
  • They die straight after mating! 
  • They cannot sting.
  • Adult drones depend on nurse worker honey bees to feed them.
  • At the end of the summer, or when the going gets tough, they’re the first to be kicked out of the colony, so as not to drain resources.
  • Drones are fatherless. yet they have a grandfather!
  • It takes 24 days for the drone to develop from being an egg to a fully grown adult bee.
  • The average lifespan of a drone is about 55 days, although there is a report suggesting they can live up to 90 days (3).
  • Drones are essential to the health and survival of future honey bee colonies.

How Large Are Drone Bees?

  • Drones can vary widely in size, but they are larger than workers, and smaller than queen honey bees.  The cells they develop from are slightly larger than worker cells.
  • They also have significantly larger eyes in comparison with queen and worker honey bees.

Role Of Drones In the Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) colony

  • Drones ensure the continuation of honey bees as a species, by mating with queens.
  • Drones can pass on important behavioural traits to new generations of honey bees, (such as hygenic behaviours) through their genes (1).
  • Drones help to regulate the temperature in the hive or nest, and this is especially important for the development of young bees and larvae.   Honey bee larvae and pupae are extremely stenothermic, which means they strongly depend on accurate regulation of brood nest temperature for proper development (33–36°C) (2).
  • Although each colony has far fewer drones than workers, they nevertheless pull their weight with regard to heat generation.  Research indicates that drones can produce one and a half times as much heat as a worker bee, and that even those drones not directly next to the brood, are never the less assisting with heat regulation inside the nest (4).

Fatherless Drones


A honey bee drone has no father, but he does have a grandfather!

Drones are 'haploid', having been reared from an unfertilised egg.  As a result, a drone has only half the chromosomes of a worker bee or queen bee  - the drone has 16 chromosomes, workers and queens have 32. (That honey bee drones are haploid was first discovered in 1845 by a Polish apiarist, named Jan Dzierżon - often described as the  "father of modern apiculture" - see History Of Beekeeping).

Being haploid means that drones can have a grandfather and grandsons, but a drone cannot have sons!

Drones come from unfertilized eggs (they are 'haploid'), meaning that no male (drone) was needed in order for the queen to produce more males - in other words, they are formed without a male 'parent'.  (In fact, at various times, female worker bees can and do also create drones, despite the fact that they do not mate with males - they are referred to as 'Drone Laying Workers'). 

But what about the queens - the mother of all the drones?

In order for a queen to produce new queens, eggs must be fertilized, for which drone bees are necessary.  This means that the queen (the "mother" of the drone), has a "father" - obviously a drone.  This means that any drones produced by the queen, actually have a "grandfather" (i.e. the "father" of the queen) - more specifically, a "maternal grandfather" (the father of the queen).

Put yet another way and more succinctly:

The queen who laid the drone eggs, is the offspring of an egg fertilized by a drone (male).  Drones themselves, however, are the offspring of eggs that have not been fertilized by a male, and they are therefore, fatherless.

This scenario, whereby offspring are reared from unfertilized eggs,  is referred to by biologists as ‘parthenogenesis’ .

Drone Mating Behaviour

Each honey bee colony will produce several hundred drones (in contrast with the thousands of workers).

On warm and sunny afternoons during the mating season, sexually mature drones, fly out of the nest (or hive) and congregate with other drones high in the air, to form a cloud of bees. There may be as many as 11000 drones from up to 240 different colonies (5).

These clouds of drones can measure between 30 and 200m in diameter,  and be located 10–40 m above ground (6).

About one hour after the peak of drones’ departure from the hives, virgin queen will also leave her hive for her nuptial flight, and join the drone congregation (7). 

As soon as a virgin queen enters the congregation of drones, groups of drones are attracted to her, first by olfactory cues (pheromones), and at shorter range by visual cues. Drones follow the virgin queen in a comet-like swarm each competing to approach and mate with the queen (8). 

Usually, a queen mates within 15–30 minutes, and with just 10–20 of the thousands of drones, and each drone that mates with the queen will die after mating (9).  This happens because the drone’s reproductive organs are torn away from its body, whilst the queen flies off, with the drones genitalia attached to her.

How Long Do Drone Bees Live?

Drones may live for just a few short weeks with drones that mate with queens having shorter lives since they die after mating.  However, it is also possible they may live up to 90 days(3).

They are expelled from their colonies by the end of summer, but in any case, by the end of autumn, there will be few or no drone bees around.  Learn more about the honey bee life cycle.

Do Honey Bee Drones Sting?

Unlike workers, the drone cannot sting.


(1) Advances In Insect Physiology, Volume 39 pg 89-91 - Elsevier Academic Press

(2) Stabentheiner A, Kovac H, Brodschneider R (2010) Honeybee Colony Thermoregulation – Regulatory Mechanisms and Contribution of Individuals in Dependence on Age, Location and Thermal Stress. PLoS ONE5(1): e8967.

(3)  Fukuda H, Ohtani T. Survival and lifespan of drone honeybees. Res. Popul. Ecol. 197719:51–68.

(4) Kovac H, Stabentheiner A, Brodschneider R. Contribution of honeybee drones of different age to colonial thermoregulation. Apidologie. 200940(1):82-95. doi:10.1051/apido/2008069.

(5) See: 
Free JB. Pheromones of social bees. London: Chapman and Hall 1987

Baudry E, Solignac M, Garnery L, Gries M, Cornuet J, Koeniger N. Relatedness among honeybees (Apis mellifera) of a drone congregation. Proc R Soc Lond B. 1998 265: 2009–2014.

Koeniger N, Koeniger G, Gries M, Tingek S. Drone competition at drone congregation areas in four Apis species. Apidologie. 2005 36: 211–221.

(6) See:
Ruttner F, Ruttner H. Untersuchungen über die Flugaktivität und das Paarungsverhalten der Drohnen III. Flugweite und Flugrichtung der Drohnen. Z Bienenforsch. 1966 8: 332–354.

Loper GM, Wolf WW, Taylor OR. Detection and monitoring of honeybee drone congregation areas by radar. Apidologie. 1987 18: 163–172.

Loper GM, Wolf WW, Taylor OR. Honey-bee drone flyways and congregation areas: radar observations. J Kansas Entomol Soc. 1992 65: 223–230.

Koeniger N, Koeniger G. Mating behavior in honey bees (Genus Apis). TARE. 2004 7: 13–28.

(7) See:
Jean-Prost P. Observation sur le vol nuptial des reines d’abeilles. Acad Sci. 1957 245: 2107–2110.

Koeniger N, Koeniger G. Mating behavior in honey bees (Genus Apis). TARE. 2004 7: 13–28.

Ruttner F, Ruttner H. Untersuchungen über die Flugaktivität und das Paarungsverhalten der Drohnen. II. Beobachtungen an Drohnensammelplätzen. Z Bienenforsch. 1965 8: 1–9.

(8) Gries M, Koeniger N. Straight forward to the queen: pursuing honeybee drones (Apis mellifera L.) adjust their body axis to the direction of the queen. J Comp Physiol A. 1996 179: 539–544.

(9) See:
Baudry E, Solignac M, Garnery L, Gries M, Cornuet J, Koeniger N. Relatedness among honeybees (Apis mellifera) of a drone congregation. Proc R Soc Lond B. 1998 265: 2009–2014.

Palmer KA, Oldroyd BP. Evolution of multiple mating in the genus Apis. Apidologie. 2000 31: 235–248.

Schlüns H, Moritz RFA, Kryger P. Multiple nuptial flights and the evolution of extreme polyandry in honeybee queens (Apis mellifera L.). Anim Behav. 2005 70: 125–131.

If there is one queen bee or queen ant in a colony that is responsible for laying all of the larvae, is the whole colony genetically identical?

If a queen bee/ant lays all the eggs/larvae in her hive, does that mean the offspring are all genetically identical? Where does she get the sperm? How are the eggs fertilized?

Assuming they are all genetically identical, does this lower their probability of surviving a virus or something similar because they aren’t genetically varied?

I can discuss honey bees Apis mellifera details on other species, particularly those more distantly related like ants may be different.

Queens leave the hive soon after they emerge as adults from the pupal stage. They take a mating flight usually a mile or so from the hive to mate in what are called Drone Congregation Areas (DCA). These are areas where drones (male bees) wait for available queens. The drone tend to fly less of a distance than the queens do to these areas so ensure a queen will not mate with her brothers.

Once at the DCA the queen will be chased by the available drones and mate in flight. Each drone as he mates eviscerates himself and falls away dead. The queen will typically mate with a dozen or more drones and numbers as high as the mid 30s have been recorded. The queen will store the sperm from this flight in her spermatheca for the rest of her life and will never mate again. Typically she makes only one flight but she might make a few if conditions like weather are bad.

Because she mates with a dozen or more drones each egg she lays has the potential to have any one of those dozen drones as a father providing genetic diversity to the queens offspring. So no her fertilized offspring (all the females) are not all identical. Her male offspring which are fertilized only get their genetics from her they do not include genetics from the drones she mated with.

Yes being genetically identical can prove to be an issue. The Americas were struck by a pest (varroa mite) in the 90s and feral bee populations collapsed. Studies done with pre-varroa populations and post-varroa populations show a dramatic decrease in genetic diversity as only some of the lines were able to cope with the new threat. Had the populations been identical losing all feral honey bees would have been a possibility.

This propensity to mate with a lot of drones (and only doing it in flight) to preserve genetic diversity makes breeding honey bees difficult as it is very hard to control that aspect of the genetics. Queen breeders who want specific traits saturate the areas where they are breeding with drones who have the desired genetics to ensure their queens get those genetics for their offspring.

Works Cited:

Gempe, Tanja, and Martin Beye. “Function and evolution of sex determination mechanisms, genes and pathways in insects.” Bioessays 33.1 (2011): 52-60.

Brito, Rute M., and Benjamin P. Oldroyd. “A scientific note on a simple method for karyotyping honey bee (Apis mellifera) eggs.” Apidologie 41.2 (2010): 178-180.

Heimpel, George E., and Jetske G. de Boer. “Sex determination in the Hymenoptera.” Annu. Rev. Entomol. 53 (2008): 209-230.

Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium. “Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera.” Nature 443.7114 (2006): 931.

Watch the video: How a Bee Becomes Queen (December 2022).