Sounds like a headline from The New York Times…except that drone warfare is usually a bit more covert and less advertised in the human world. In the bee world, drones have nothing whatsoever to do with warfare. They are not harbingers of death and destruction. They are a far cry from being warriors. They are gentle, bumbling and harmless in that they don’t sting. They are life affirming in that they carry the genetic material for a hive. They are kept around the hive purely for reproductive reasons.
Yet drones are problematic in a way.
In the Spring buildup, queens will often lay eggs for a certain amount of drones. A large quantity of them may be a signal that the hive is considering swarming——getting ready to pack up the old ailing queen and leave the neighborhood for a new zip code. That then leaves the old hive with a new virgin queen who goes out on her Spring mating flight to find a “drone congregation” in the area for fertilization.
Because Drones are huge compared to their compact female worker bees—- imagine an airbus compared to a small personal jet—they can fill up the hive with their sheer bodyweight and numbers. And since they also do precious little other than carry the genetic future for bees, they lounge around consuming resources that the hive needs for baby worker bees. They are also a easy targets for disease and mites. The dreaded Varroa Mite loves these relatively large, lazy insects. And so, too many drones can make a beekeepers heart sink.
When I opened up my hive this morning, it was filled with even more drone cells than last week. Ugh. What is my queen up to? Are my girls getting ready to swarm and leave me? Haven’t I tried to provide them with a good, clean, safe hive and a lovely backyard full of flowers?
But one never knows the mind of a bee. It’s a mystery. Much as is all of life. Much as is the unseen realms of the Divine.
And so the bees keep me in suspense everyday. They take me beyond my comfort zone, humbly instructing me in how much bigger are the questions in life. Many more than easy answers. Tending and stewarding land and plants and creatures is never something that can be completely known and controlled—though some would have you think it’s possible—squeezing out every bit of wonder and mystery for a standardized, scientific reduction of all critter and plant life. This then leaves the door open for horrible abuses and a lack of curiosity for what these other beings might teach us as humans. Industrialized bees, alongside everything else industrialized, becomes a huge operation of disposable, dispensable beehives which self destruct after a season, from the stress, the chemicals, the lack of respect for their nature.
Because I like to keep things in order—–shape things, make my world nice and neat—the messiness of beekeeping is a good practice. Even today my girls were cross combing—–making honeycomb between the bars and welding them together with honey and babies. Again. Ugh. And so I made a clean cut between the two top bars, exposing the white ghostly fetuses of baby bees in the womb and opening a vein for honey to drip.
The bees will fix it and hopefully begin to draw out nice straight comb. But one never knows. In the end, bees have a mind of their own.
My work is to learn to think like a bee, so I can be less disturbing when I go into their home and poke around in service of “bee-keeping”.
Maybe it’s the bees that keep me.
After all, I offer them nothing, and they in kind offer me honey and pollen and hours of fascination.
Coming up…Is the sweet little honeybee an invasive species?