Drones under house arrest
Beekeepers are frequently advised to put a queen excluder under the brood box to keep a new package from absconding. Since the queen can’t leave, the colony won’t leave either.
This is good advice that works well as long as you remove the excluder once the bees have settled in. Since drones cannot leave through the excluder, they are prohibited from leaving the hive as well. Recently, someone asked why they couldn’t just leave the drones inside.
Several reasons came to mind, and I’m sure you can think of others:
- Incarcerated drones get in the way of progress in the nursery. Instead of helping with the work, they take up space, and the workers have to maneuver around them.
- Drones consume the food stores that workers collect for winter. Drones that don’t fly probably have a longer lifespan than those on the prowl, and at home there’s nothing to do but eat.
- Drones increase the heat load in the hive. In a colony that is desperately trying to keep the nursery cool, the last thing the bees need is an abundance of sweaty drones, each with three pairs of smelly socks.
- If they can’t get out, drones will be forced to defecate in the hive. The workers must then spend time shoveling instead of building and nursing.
- Once they die, dead bodies will contaminate the interior of the hive. Since drone bodies can’t fit through the excluder, the workers can do nothing but pile them in a corner. R.I.P.
- From a larger perspective, those drones are an important part of the gene pool in your area. If you prevent your drones from flying, you are deleting their genetics from the local population.
As a beekeeper, it is easy to be overcautious. Yes, you want to prevent your new package from absconding, but if you go too far you will jeopardize the colony in other ways. So as soon as you see your bees hanging pictures and building comb, it is time to get that excluder out from under the brood box.