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Sexual Suicide by Honey Bees

The Tragic Plight of the Male Honey Bee

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Honey bees on comb
Paolo Negri/ Photographer's Choice RF/ Getty Images

The male honey bee, called a drone, exists for one reason only – to mate with the queen. He is entirely expendable once he provides this service to the colony. In fact, any drones that remain around the hive in the fall will be unceremoniously driven from the colony before cold weather sets in. Honey stores are simply too precious to waste on a sperm donor.

The drone takes his mission seriously, however, and will give his life for the cause. Honey bee mating is one of the most dramatic examples of sexual suicide in the insect world. Honey bee sex occurs in mid-air, when the queen flies out in search of mates. Drones compete for the chance to mate with their queen, swarming around her as she flies.

Eventually, a brave drone will make his move. As he grasps the queen, the drone everts his penis using a contraction of his abdominal muscles and hemostatic pressure, and inserts it tightly into the queen's reproductive tract. He immediately ejaculates with such explosive force that the tip of his penis ruptures, and is left behind inside the queen. The drone falls to the ground, where he dies soon after.

During her one nuptial flight, the queen will mate with a dozen or more partners, leaving a trail of dead drones in her wake. She stores the sperm for use throughout her life.

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