Sexual Suicide by Honey Bees

The Tragic Plight of the Male Honey Bee

Honey bees on comb
Paolo Negri/ Photographer's Choice RF/ Getty Images

The male honey bee, called a drone, exists for one reason, and one reason only: to mate with the queen. He is entirely expendable once he provides this service to the colony. The drone takes his mission seriously, however, and will give his life for the cause.  

How Honey Bees Do the Deed

Honey bee sex occurs in mid-air, when the queen flies out in search of mates. Drones compete for the chance to mate with their queen, swarming around her as she flies.

Eventually, a brave drone will make his move.

As the drone grasps the queen, he everts his penis using a contraction of his abdominal muscles and hemostatic pressure, and inserts it tightly into the queen's reproductive tract. He immediately ejaculates with such explosive force that the tip of his penis ruptures, and is left behind inside the queen. The drone falls to the ground, where he dies soon after.

Queen Bees Really Get Around

During her one nuptial flight, the queen will mate with a dozen or more partners, leaving a trail of dead drones in her wake. Any drones that remain around the hive in the fall will be unceremoniously driven from the colony before cold weather sets in. Honey stores are simply too precious to waste on a sperm donor. The queen, on the other hand, will store the sperm for use throughout her life.

Insects and Sexual Suicide

Though honey bee mating is one of the most dramatic examples of sexual suicide in the insect world, it's not the only one.

And in the grand scheme of things, it's not all that gruesome. How would you like to be eaten by your mate during sex, like some praying mantids