It’s Fall, and fall means feed around here, feeding the colony all the sugar it will take. Like a processed sugar buffet I’ve refilled their plate as often as they empty it, but this artificial feed has not dulled the bee’s sense of season. The earth still tilts and turns and so it is time for the colony to take the final steps to prepare for winter. It will slaughter the drones.
Strictly speaking the bees will not kill the drones. They drag them kicking and buzzing from the hive and drop them a distance away . A distance away from the hive the wasps wait. The remaining wasps are monstrous versions of their summer sisters. They are the future queens of wasp colonies to come. They will sleep through the winter and arise in the spring to hunt again. Before their winter slumber they gather like jackals to harvest from the hive.
If the hive were weak they would not hesitate at the entrance but this hive is strong, very strong. The landing board is ever crowded with workers and the reduced entrance means that there are no easy meals, just a wall of eyes watching and waiting to defend the hive. There is no reason to risk a full on attack. A hungry wasp princess need only wait patiently beyond the landing board for an unlucky drone to land near her. Large, round and stingless, the Drones represent the wasp’s ideal meal – one that can’t fight back.
Not all the drones are dropped off for the wasps. Some are simply denied entrance into the hive. Eventually they either chill to death or search out other hives. Perhaps another hive will take them in, perhaps not. The queen has decided the timing of this rite of winter. When she ceases laying drone eggs the colony takes its cue. Casting them aside is the last tightening of the belt before the cold winter forces them to gather and wait.
At the top of the feeder I spotted one drone left. Hugging the wall of the feeder he slurped syrup contentedly. How his sisters have missed him I do not know but when the cluster convenes tonight he will be dealt with. I feel sorry for him in a way, and considered taking him in to my daughters. On second thought the wasps are probably gentler.
In the summer the drones fulfilled their purpose as an insurance policy against the loss of the queen. In the winter a queen could never mate, so the colony will stake its life on the current queen and guard her through the months ahead. The drones are no longer needed and therefore no longer tolerated. To paraphrase a famous man hater, “A colony needs its drones like a fish needs a bicycle.” In the winter that is true, and so we say farewell to the boys of summer. We’ll see them again in the spring, when the celestial grind brings around their time and purpose once more.