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Another Drone Congregation Area! Part 3

A group of drones (top right) - probably pursuing a Queen

A group of drones (top right) – probably pursuing a Queen.

After the success of finding my first  honeybee Drone Congregation Area (DCA), I thought I’d try my luck again, but where to look?

The first DCA only partly fitted the rather vague research picture of where a DCA might be. By itself, the first DCA offered clues to possible locations, but not a definite picture.

After confirming the first DCA, we went off in search of another and after two very speculative and unsuccessful tests, I had a hunch about a place near my village. I didn’t  have a clearly defined site in mind, just a notion that a general area might produce a result.

It was getting late — after 5pm — so I wasn’t too hopeful The underlying geology was significantly different (no longer on the chalk downs) and the location was about five kilometres from the first DCA.

I walked along a track and the first sign was the buzzing of drones — then I saw them again! This time the site was a south-facing slope (the first was NE-facing), but again it was on a slight slope with a significant breeze which might have helped flight.

Again, the drones were flying at a height of about three to four metres, not the much higher altitude reported in the literature.

The hat lure.

The hat lure with a drone just visible mid-left..

Curiously my hat seemed almost as much an object of interest as the queen lure!

So can I find a third DCA? I’m really not sure! But I’ll be trying.

The bees’ algorithm for finding DCAs is still a mystery to me. There is something in the “declination in the horizon” (where the brightest point on the horizon starts to appear less bright) description, but in my experience it’s not that clear. Then again I’m not flying at drone height!

The  first recorded DCA is said to have been by eighteenth century naturalist Gilbert White in Selborne, just 25 kilometres from Vita’s Basingstoke HQ.

On 1 July 1792, White reported hearing “loud audible humming of bees in the air, tho’ not one insect is to be seen”.

It’s said that almost 225 years later, the Selborne DCA still exists, so I’ll be of there soon fishing rod in hand. I wonder if these ares were even more spectacular pre-Varroa when there were more feral colonies.

Update: see a video of a third Drone Congregation area.

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Drone Congregation Areas – Part 2


Drones attracted to the queen pheromone lure.

Three days after my first apparent discovery of a Drone Congregation Area (DCA), a fellow beekeeper and I set out to confirm what I’d seen.

It was a hot Tuesday afternoon (yes, England can be hot), just after 3pm, with a firm high-pressure system breeze coming in from the north-east.

When we first reached the area with the queen pheromone on the end of a fishing rod, there seemed little of interest. But quickly the drones started to build up. I don’t know whether it was the lure attracting them or whether it was the time of day.

There were even more drones this time. They almost seemed to be rising out of the barley field. They were very low flying skimming just a few feet above the ripening barley heads. Perhaps they were keeping out of the breeze.

It soon became apparent that the lure was at its most effective at about 3 metres above the ground, not the several metres suggested in the literature.


Fly fishing? No, honeybee fishing.

The noise of the drones’ buzzing was impressive! If you look very closely in the photos, you can see black specks throughout the pictures. They are drones and not camera lens defects.

Again, the area seemed clearly defined and the same as before although I was limited in my search by having to stick to tractor tramlines within the crop. (I’ll be back after harvest to mark out the territory more precisely.)

After a while, there was no need for the lure, as the drones were plain to see. They often travelled in groups and these may well have have been drones chasing queens. If they were chasing queens there were a surprising number of queens on the wing given that the immediate area doesn’t have many beekeepers.  Chris who was with me and taking the photos thinks he actually witnessed a drone mounting a queen.


The general area of the DCA on chalk downland.

After a mesmerising hour, we moved on to other areas. More about that in Part 3.

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

In search of a mate – Drone Congregation Areas – Part 1

Gone fishing in a Drone Congregation Area.

Gone fishing in a Drone Congregation Area. (The black dots are drones!)

I’ve always been fascinated by the existence of Drone Congregation Areas (DCA) — those special zones where honeybee Queens go to mate.

Humans have bars, clubs, churches and all sorts of venues. Honeybees have Drone Congregation Areas – somewhat mysterious locations in the landscape that are hard to define.

A Queen leaves the hive only a very few times in her life, so how does she know where to go to meet up with drones?

The drones leave daily in good summer weather, but how do they know where to gather? Their previous season’s brothers are long since deceased, so there is no family folklore to follow.

The research on Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs) is still in its relatively early stages, but a new book Mating Biology of Honey Bees provides fascinating insights. It helped in my search.

Here was my experience last Saturday in Hampshire, in southern England:

I acquired some queen pheromone, an extra-long fishing rod and on a warm sunny afternoon set off from one of my apiaries (like a demented soul) with a fishing rod and lure pointing skyward. (But not so demented as to be careless around power lines.)

Half an hour of walking produced no reaction from anything. So I returned to the apiary and put the lure at the entrance of one hive. Still there was no reaction whatsoever! I was beginning to doubt the lure.

I set off along a path in the opposite direction heading for what I interpreted from the literature might be a potential zone, in a dip in the horizon.

As I walked down a slope towards the dip, I started to hear buzzing. I walked further down and it disappeared. So I returned up the slope and so did the buzzing. Then the drones started to be attracted to the lure. Success!

I was amazed to be so lucky on my first outing. The DCA seemed quite clearly defined occupying an approximate circle of about 75 metres diameter. There were quite clear boundaries where the drones seemed to disappear — at the top of the slope, where it levelled off and bordered a small woodland, and as the slope approached the bottom, again lined by trees. Across the slope there appeared to be quite clear limits too.

The second outing yesterday proved even more dramatic. More in Part 2 now online.

Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

Is something stirring?

IMG_5460Having taken a long time to come into lay, the new Queen may not be for the observation hive much longer.

There is what looks suspiciously like a queen cell in the making (right). However as the photo (below left) shows, she continues to lay in whatever spaces are cleaned out by the workers.

Her brood looks very healthy (bottom right): sealed, no holes in the cappings and and very few empty cells in between.

The drones have now almost completely departed the colony — they were around in force for quite some time, presumably until she became mated.

Turlough, Vita’s Guest Beekeeping Blogger


Queen dipping in and out of the few empty cells laying eggs.

Queen dipping in and out of the few empty cells laying eggs.

Solid brood pattern and health larvae.

Solid brood pattern and healthy larvae.





HopGuard approval process

HopGuard TestAt Vita’s offices yesterday, Max, Alexandra and Zahir met to discuss the next stages in the process to achieve pan-European approval for HopGuard, a varroa control treatment.

One of the next steps is residue assessment: when applied how much, if any, Hopguard will find its way into wax and honey.

To be able to assess residues accurately, a benchmarking test must be performed by independent laboratory.  they take samples of wax and honey and impregnate them separately with known amounts of Hopguard.

The laboratory then measures the amount of Hopguard that can be detected in the samples. This measurement then provides the benchmark for subsequent field tests.

Here, Max is pictured taking some comb with honey (from a bell jar) to send to the testing laboratory.

This is just one of the many tests that a regulated treatment such as Hopguard must undergo.

The process is quite expensive, but when approvals are granted it does give beekeepers the assurance that they are dealing with a thoroughly tested and safe treatment.


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