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Hilltopping in search of drones

In the December 2015 issue of Bee Craft, Turlough’s article In Search of Drone Congregation Areas was published (pp 7-9). Here is an update on that article following email conversations with a world expert on insect mating.

Since it’s autumn here and drones have long since been kicked out of queen-right hives, it’s back to the books to find out what else is known about Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs), those special places where drones assemble in hope of mating with a honeybee queen.

I’ve come across the topic of hilltopping amongst other insects and which has resonance with my efforts to locate honeybee DCAs.

Hilltopping, as the name suggests, is a phenomenon observed amongst some male insects to gather on hill tops awaiting a female. John Alcock, of Arizona University and a world expert on insect mating,  has observed it with the little known crabronid wasp Tachysphex menkei and other insects. However, he believes that hill-topping by the crabronid wasp is a mating behaviour of last resort: “no female … has been observed visiting waiting males”! The successful males may get their action more quickly and elsewhere. Hill-topping might be most common amongst insects where they are thinly spread.

Professor Alcock has very kindly responded to some email queries from me and thinks that next year’s plan to study DCAs in an area where there are more honeybee colonies could be revealing.

Could hill-topping apply to honeybees and, if so, in what circumstances? I’m looking forward to next season to see if we can begin to answer that.

Here’s a reminder of what action in a DCA can look like.


And the story so far in case you’ve missed it:

1 July 2015 In search of a mate

2 July 2015 Drone Congregation Areas

7 July 2015 Another Drone Congregation Area

20 July 2015 Video of Life in a Drone Congregation Area

28 July 2015 Do drones assemble above prehistoric sites?

3 August 2015 Drone Goal?

10 August 2015 Rediscovering the first recorded Drone Congregation Area

8 September 2015 In search of a Drone Congregation Area SatNav

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