Essence of dead drone
If you detect a reeking, putrefying, gagging odor near your beehives this time of year, it could be the aroma of dead drones. Phillip at Mudsongs.org and I both detected it yesterday, and we both went through moments of self-doubt when we wondered what was happening to our hives.
Having forgotten the lessons of the past, I scurried to open the “offending” hive only to be met with the intoxicating scent of honey and wax, and that wonderful, indescribable odor of busy beehive. Then, confident the smell was coming from outside the hive, I searched until I found a dead mouse.
For a while I blamed the mouse, but then I realized he was too dead to be causing the problem. Too dead, meaning desiccated and crispy. At that moment I visualized the scent—dead drones.
It makes sense (scents) when you realize this is the season when adult drones and drone pupae are evicted from the hives. Although the workers make an effort to carry off the corpses, they often drop them only a few feet from the hive. In large colonies this turns into a big pile—a mound that rots in the summer heat and reeks to high heaven. Nothing smells more dead than dead pupae.
All of this reminds of an incident several years ago. At that time I was taking advice from another beekeeper about culling drones for mite control. I took frames of drone pupae from my hives, froze them over night and then, using a garden hose at an oblique angle, flushed the pupae from the cells. Naively, I did this near the back patio of our home five days before having guests for the July 4 holiday.
After about three days, I was met with a gut-writhing stench every time I entered the backyard. It took me a while to figure it what it was, but eventually I realized it was the drone pupae. Meanwhile, my husband was trying to get the place spruced up for the holiday. He kept asking, “What is that smell?” And I would shrug and say, “What smell?”
“It must be a dead deer,” he said, thrashing through the bushes looking for the offending carcass. “It could be a raccoon,” he added, “but it smells big, like a deer . . . or maybe a coyote.”
“You’re right,” I concurred, not wanting a lecture on my choice of drone burial grounds. Not that he probably ever thought about it.
Every time he was out of sight for an instant I flooded the area with more water, trying to hose the effluvium into the ground. It was strange because the pupae had fallen down into the grass where you couldn’t see a single one, but there was no doubt about their presence.
In the end, it took about two weeks for the smell to dissipate. My husband apologized to the guests for the dead animal smell and explained that since we live next to a state forest, all kinds of animal things happen here. I smiled politely and agreed.
That was years ago and I never said a word about it. I no longer hose out drones, I just feed them to the chickens. Now there’s just one problem remaining. Since my husband reads my blog every day . . .