Drone behaviour outside the nest

After leaving the nest drones fly to some special places called drone congregation area. Drones fly back and forth in this area producing audible sound similar to a swarm of bees. When a queen comes to drone congregation area drones pursue her. The drones following the queen form a tight formation called "drone comet". Drones recognize queens using both chemical and visual cues [1][2][3]. At large distance chemical cues are more important than visual cues. Drones respond to the queen mandibular pheromone from a distance of more than 400 m upwind [4]. At smaller distance drones follow the queen even if it is in downwind direction and follow other dark objects at some distance from the pheromone scented dummy queen [5]. Unscented dummies are not chased as scented once; the pheromones can be important for discrimination between queens and drones [6]. Impregnated with pheromones dummy of queen is attractive to drones [7][8][9]. Drones approach the queen from below and usually against wind. The queen is probably better visible at the background of bright sky than on the background of relatively dark ground. Therefore drones chasing the queen remain below her and use the upper frontal part of their field of view to observe her against the bright sky. Drones perceive very well dark objects against the sky. They are able to see objects as small as 0.41 degrees [5]. The upper part of compound eyes is particularly well developed in drones. The angle between horizontal and the line joining the drone and queen is 22.6±7.4 degrees [6]. Distance between the drone and the queen they chase is 3.4±1.1 cm [6]. Drones are able to abruptly change flight direction [10]. Mean turning speed is 1890 degrees/s [11] and maximum 2260 degree/s [5].

References

  1. Gary N.E. (1962) Chemical mating attractants in the queen honey bee. Science 136:773-774.
  2. Gary N.E. (1963) Observations of mating behaviour in the honeybee. J. Apic. Res. 2:3-13.
  3. Gary N.E., Marston J. (1971) Mating behavior of drone honey bees with queen models. Anim. Behav. 19:299-304.
  4. Loper G.M., Wolf W.W., Taylor O.R. (1993) Radar detection of drones responding to honeybee queen pheromone. Journal of Chemical Ecology 19:1929-1938.
  5. Vallet A.M., Coles J.A. (1993) The perception of small objects by the drone honeybee. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology 172:183-188.
  6. Praagh van J.P., Ribi W., Wehrhahn C., Wittmann D. (1980) Drones fixate the queen with the dorsal frontal part of their compound eyes. J Comp Physiol 136:263-266.
  7. Gerig L. (1971) Wie Drohnen auf Königinnen-Attrappen reagieren. Schweiz. Bienenztg. 94:558-562.
  8. Taylor O.R. (1984) An aerial trap for collecting drone honeybees in congregation areas. J. Apic. Res. 23:18-20.
  9. Taylor O.R. (1984) A mating tube for studying attractiveness of queen honeybees and mating behaviour of drones. J. Apic. Res. 23:21-24.
  10. Jean-Prost P. (1958) Résumé des observations sur le vol nuptial des reines d`abeilles. Proc Int Beekeep Congr Rome 17:404-408.
  11. Gries M., Koeniger N. (1996) Straight forward to the queen: pursuing honeybee drones (Apis mellifera L.) adjust their body axis to the direction of the queen. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology 179:539-544.