Drone flights

honey bee, drone in flight

Honey bee drone in flight.

Before take-off a drone cleans its antennae and eyes. This often occurs at the nest entrance. After take-off drones produce characteristic sound which is different from sound produced by flying workers. Drones perform flights not only from the nest but also from swarm cluster [1].

Drones fly only during favourable weather conditions, when air temperature is higher than 19 °C [2][3][4][5]. It was suggested that drones do not fly when the temperature exceeds 38 °C [6]. Activity of drones is reduced when wind speed exceeds 4-6 m/s [2]. Drones fly 10 - 40 m above ground; the flight height is lower during windy weather [7]. Drones of different subspecies can fly at different heights [8].

Peak of drone flight activity occurs between 14:00 and 16:30 [9][10][5][11][7][12] but see [13] and it depends on weather conditions [9][14][3][15][16]. In higher temperature flights start later [6] and they are longer [16]. Time of day when the drones perform flights differs between some species of the genus Apis [17][18][19][20][21][22] but see [23]. This can be important for isolation of species. Differences in this respect between subspecies of Apis mellifera are smaller [3][15][6][24][25][26][8][27][28][29][30]. Solar time [31] should be used in future research in order for easier comparisons between studies.

The first flights made by a drone are called orientation flights. Drones start flying at age 8.28±1.74 days [32]. Drones from strain selected for higher pollen collection start flying ate earlier age [33]. The orientation flights last 1 - 6 minutes [10]. It was suggested that the purpose of the short flights is orientation [3], during those flight drones also defecate.

Flights of older drones last 32.56±22.49 minutes [34]. Those flights are called mating flights. During those flights drones visit drone congregation areas and attempt to mate with a queen, but only small fraction of them has a chance to mate. Duration of a mating flight is limited by the amount of honey in crop of drone. Weight of drones crop is 17.7±9.1 mg at the time of leaving the nest and 4.3±6.3 mg at the time of returning to the nest [35][36]. During hours when flights occur drones are more engorged than during other hours of the day [36]. After returning from the flight to the nest drones spend there 17.14±24.42 minutes before going for another flight. During this time drones eat honey and store it in their crop. There can be up to 5 flights during one afternoon [3] but usually there is 3 or less [34]. Drone flight duration was reported by several authors [37][14][10][11][38][39] for review see [34].

Drones at drone congregation area are less asymmetrical than drones remaining in the colony [40]. This suggests better flight performance of less asymmetrical drones. Flight performance of drones can be affected by Varroa infestation [41] and inbreeding [42].

During flight drones probably use landmarks for their orientation [7][43][44]. Drones often return to a colony other than their own [45], sometimes they return to a colony in different apiary [46].
In drones oxygen consumption during flight is two-fold higher than in workers [47]. In comparison to workers drones have during flight higher thorax temperature [48]. Force production during tethered flight in drones (3.95±0.23 mN) is higher than in queens and workers [48]. Drone flight is fuelled by highly concentrated nectar (median: 71.6%) transported in both crop and midgut. In the crop there is only about 5 microliters of nectar [49].

Other references: [50][51][52][53][54][55]


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