Bees and flies are similar in appearance, but they have very different ways of mating. Bees mate in a hive, where the queen has several partners, often a dozen or more. The queen is responsible for raising her offspring, and she will store sperm from the male drones she mates with throughout her lifetime. A queen bee can store as much as six million sperm. Bees can also store sperm for up to seven years.
The queen honey bee will matten as many as twenty-four times during her lifetime. Each male brings 5.3 – 5.7 million spermatozoa, and the queen transports six million of these spermatozoa to her spermatheca. A drone’s mating flight may take two or three mating flights, and it takes at least two or three drones to mate with a queen.
The mate takes place in mid-air, as the drones approach the queen from behind and grab her abdomen with their legs. This mating act takes only a few minutes, but the sperm from each drone can be stored for months or years. Once the sex is complete, the drones will die, while the queen will continue mating with other drones.
The queen’s egg laying ability is extremely important to the survival and population of the colony. The queen will only leave the hive to mate and accompany the swarm to its new home.