Finding large numbers of drones outside the hive can be a bit of a shock. After all… Most of the year, this is not where you usually come across male bees.
However, in certain situations, drones will congregate at the front of the hive. Or you could find piles of drone corpses at the hive entrance.
So what’s up?
Well, it depends on what stage of the year you observe this puzzling event!
Drone bees outside the hive
Drones are the big butch males inside a bee colony, but they only have a life expectancy of about 90 days.
In the springtime worker, bees start raising drone bees for mating purposes. But at the end of the season, drones are unnecessary and will be removed.
Most of the time, you can observe drones coming and going inside the hive. But you could also find them outside the hive in two conditions:
- Or alive
I know… it sounds like a western movie!
But depending on the time of year, your drones will either turn up lifeless or very much alive and looking for a date!
Because a drone’s sole purpose is reproduction, you’ll see live bees during the nectar flow. But when circumstances change, they serve no purpose, and worker bees won’t hesitate to kill surplus drones.
Why are drone bees killed?
Drones are killed when food supplies inside the hive become insufficient. Food is needed to sustain the rest of the worker bee colony, while a drone bee’s only purpose is to mate.
Drones cannot gather nectar or pollen, and young bees have to be fed by the worker bees. The older ones feed themselves directly from the food stores. As far as we know, they do not contribute to the upkeep of the hive in any other way. Their sole function is to mate with a queen.
Outside the mating season, they use up valuable resources in the hive. So when swarm season is over, they get evicted.
Drone eviction is expected at the end of the season when nectar sources begin to run dry. Then, as winter approaches, there will be fewer and fewer drones inside the hive, and drone production will halt. Any remaining drone brood will probably also be ejected from the beehive.
They take up unnecessary room and would be a burden if they matured into young adults.
You’ll see worker bees chasing the drones out of the hive this time. If the male bees don’t take the hint, they can be forcibly removed or even have their wings chewed off!
Dead drones in front of the hive in spring
Springtime is not the usual moment to find dead drones outside your hive. Instead, this could be a sign that worker bees are trying to conserve resources.
Spring is the beginning of the beekeeping season. At this time, colonies should be building their numbers.
But if there’s no incoming food, a natural reaction for worker bees is to expel drones. This could be for many reasons. For example, climatic conditions significantly influence the forager’s ability to fly.
Check your hives to see if reserves are lacking. This could be the cause of the drone eviction.
Drones outside the hive in summer
Finding drones outside the hive during the summer months can mean two things, depending on whether the bees are dead or alive!
Activity in front of the hive with lots of living drones could signify swarming.
Suppose you see drones leaving the hive in the afternoon. In that case, mating could be happening someplace nearby (they are flying off to the drone congregation area).
In this case, your hive may already be queenless, or the queen is on the verge of swarming.
There is not much other reason for drones to be outside. They cannot protect the hive because they can’t sting. And they cannot forage like worker bees. Most of the time, they just wander around snacking on the nectar stores!
If drones actively leave the hive, you’ll see them walking around the entrance and on the floor in front.
Finding dead drone bees outside the hive or dead drone brood on the bottom board in the summertime could signify a weak colony.
Worker bees start raising drones in the spring. At this time, the season is getting started, and forage is becoming more and more abundant. Typically by summer, drone production reaches its peak.
Suppose everything is going well and bees have plenty of nectar sources. In that case, a high population of drones in the summer indicates a healthy colony.
On the other hand, if bees struggle to feed the hive because forage is scarce, drone bees are the first to be sacrificed. They will be thrown out because they don’t serve any purpose in the current circumstances. Bees won’t waste food on drones because the rest of the colony takes priority.
For example, this can happen during a nectar dearth that puts a strain on a growing colony. During a heat wave, flowering plants wilt. What starts as a flourishing season can quickly change. Also, long rainy periods prevent bees from foraging, and supplies begin to lack.
Drone eviction in September
As fall approaches, this is a normal part of the colony’s life cycle. Drone eviction is customary in autumn to prepare for the upcoming winter months.
Drones are forced to leave the hive and will perish. They cannot forage for food like the worker bees (their anatomy isn’t designed for collecting nectar or pollen). So the male bees will starve to death.
Piles of dead bees will build up in front of the hive. You’ll probably also see immature drone brood ejected onto the bottom board of the hive. This is totally normal and shows you the colony is preparing to overwinter.
If you discover drones outside or around the entrance to your hive, stop to evaluate the situation. You can often interpret what’s happening, thanks to the context. For example, consider how far into the season you are or what the climate has been like recently in your region.