Updated: Dec 16, 2018
Our blog post today is about drone assemblies, or drone congregations. All the information below is from a leaflet which was written by Beowulf A. Cooper of the British Bee Breeders' Association and was originally published by them. Thank you to Lewis Kelly for providing this leaflet for our information. David Cushman also has further information on his website here about mating in honey bees.
Have you heard a drone assembly?
Not many people have heard them, but a considerable number of beekeepers and naturalists have. It usually happens on a bright sunny day in summer, sounding like a swarm of bees far overhead in a direction that's not easy to place. One of the earliest written mentions of a drone assembly dates from 1792 and was described as follows- "Anyone would suppose that a large swarm of bees was in motion and playing about above his head."
What is a drone assembly?
It's how we describe a place where drone honeybees congregate in order to mate with virgin queens, usually between 11 am to 5 pm, and sometimes much later on suitable days in summer. On still days the bees may be very high up (100-160 feet) and out of sight of most people. On windy days, they'll be 50-100 feet up, and probably be still out of sight, unless you're wearing sunglasses. However, on very windy days they may descend as low as head height and be easily seen.
How do you know it's a drone assembly?
By their sound first, which is pitched lower than that of worker bees and secondly, by throwing a small pebble high into the air and looking to see if any drones chase it down on its return trajectory. One of the most remarkable things about drone assemblies is that they return to the same place year after year. From day to day the focal point may move a short distance depending on the prevailing winds, but the assemblies are usually in the same place.