Beowulf Cooper wrote many notes that were gathered together
after his death and published by BIBBA as "The Honeybees of the
British Isles". Many of the words on this page were written by Beo and
are given here more or less as they were written, simply because I
doubt that I could improve on them.
In the less settled weather conditions of some years, and
particularly in smoky and high-rainfall regions, neither major nor
minor drone assemblies may form with sufficient regularity. At such
times queens of Italian and other non-native parentage may fail to
mate, disappearing or becoming drone-layers. Yet under similar
conditions and in the same apiaries, bees with native characteristics
do mate freely, become fertile and subsequently produce worker brood.
They may take longer to mate than normal, and in early spring and
late summer we occasionally find that they have been insufficiently
inseminated, leading to their being superseded after a short laying
life. However, this ability saves the breeding line which would
otherwise die out.
Apiary vicinity mating can occur during bursts of sunshine
or during dull weather when ground or plant radiation is high, or
when the air is moderately warm. The queen emerges from the hive and
is immediately followed by a number of drones from that hive, with
one or more of which she mates within the confines of the apiary.
(It is the occasional witnessing of this event by beekeepers which
must have led to the widespread belief that all matings in these
Islands were of a local or apiary-vicinity nature; a belief which has
surprised our continental colleagues.)
When queens are seen mating near the hive, they nearly
always turn out to be of superseding strains. This is to be expected
since drone assembly mating maximises outcrossing and supersedure is
favoured by inbreeding as it is largely recessive in character.
It is more than a coincidence that most of the superseding
characters, which we know of, are recessive. It is only under
conditions of a moderate degree of inbreeding that the character shows
up. Apiary vicinity mating behaviour, and the continuance of such bees
in recognisable form through many generations is a clear sign of
repeated mating within the drone family of the parent.
The effect of this local type of mating behaviour is that a
queen is likely to mate with one or more drones from her own hive,
which in the case of strains with non-migratory drones, are likely to
be her own "brothers". Alternatively she may well be fertilised by
drones from other hives in the apiary, whose bees are, more likely
than not, related to her. Thus we have here a powerful mechanism for
securing some degree of inbreeding, with all its consequent advantages
Since this type of mating is practicable in cool as well as
in warm weather, it is of particular value to queens trying to mate
very early or very late in the season, or at any time when the weather
is too cold for prolonged flight.
Written... 07 December 2001
Revised... 08 December 2001