Worker bees won't construct cells for male honeybees until their colony grows to a certain population - about 4,000 workers, all told. For the first time, biologists at Cornell University have identified colony size as a factor that triggers a hive's reproductive cycle, the scientists reported recently in the journal Naturwissenschaften.
Four thousand bees is relatively small for a colony, Michael L. Smith, a biology graduate student and author of the study, tells The Dodo, whereas a full-fledged hive of bees numbers 20,000 to 40,000 strong.
Bee colonies aren't always ready to breed, as young colonies must first allocate their resources to growing in size. But once a colony hits about 4,000 members - though this is an approximation, rather than a magic number -"it's as if the colony had entered puberty," Smith says. Worker bees, the non-reproducing females in a colony, start to construct what Smith and his colleagues call "drone comb": the cells of the hive where the male drones will hatch. (Full-grown drones, after hatching, leave to seek out virgin queens and disseminate their hive's genes.)