It’s 2023 and high time you knew that you can hear bees ejaculate. The “pop” of bee copulation is caused by the explosive way in which they transfer sperm, and if it makes you uncomfortable you should know that the male drone is left feeling a lot worse.
Drones, which are male bees, come into this world with one purpose. They have no stinger, so can’t defend themselves, they don’t gather pollen, so can’t feed themselves and instead rely on the help of female worker bees. The only thing they know how to do is screw, but even that doesn’t end well.
When a queen bee reaches sexual maturity at seven days old, she takes to the air for a maiden mating flight, known as a “nuptial flight”, exuding irresistible pheromones as she does. This lures in the drones who are hot on the queen’s tail, eager to pass on their sperm.
Sperm transference in bees is an uncharacteristically violent process, and like many other mating rituals among insects and arachnids, it’s the males that come off worse. Clasping onto the back of the queen, the drone’s endophallus (bees answer to a penis) explosively enters her stinging chamber creating a pop sound that – incredibly – is audible to the human ear.
That’s right, you can hear a bee ejaculate.
Having an endophallus explode into your stinging chamber sounds like a rough deal, but the queen will continue on her nuptial flight to mate with a further dozen-or-so drones, so it doesn’t impact them too negatively. The males on the other hand, hoo boy.
“The endophallus is stored inside of the drone's body,” said Jamie Ellis, professor of entomology at the University of Florida, to Snopes. “During storage, the endophallus is inverted, or turned inside out. The endophallus is forced out of the abdomen when the drone copulates with the queen.”
“At this point, what was the inside of the endophallus while in the body becomes the outside of the endophallus when pushed from the body. It takes much of the drone's hemolymph to force the endophallus out of the body. Thus, the everted drone becomes paralyzed and ultimately dies as a result of forcing out his endophallus and copulating with the queen.”
Talk about going out with a bang.
The explosive nature of bee sex unfortunately isn’t limited to reproductive events, as research has found that intense heatwaves sometimes result in – and this is a direct quote here – bees “explosively ejaculating to death”. The heavy news came from the University of British Columbia back in 2022.
Here, researchers revealed the devastating effect heat has on drones, causing them to convulse in a way that forces them to ejaculate, jettisoning the enormous endophallus from their abdomens and causing fatal injury.
"When drones die from shock, they spontaneously ejaculate," postdoctoral fellow at UBC's Michael Smith Laboratories and expert in bee health, Dr Alison McAfee, said in a statement. "They have this elaborate endophallus that comes out and is about the size of their own abdomen. It's pretty extreme."
Fortunately, simple solutions such as providing a cooling station in the form of a feeder full of sugar syrup, or attaching a Styrofoam lid to hives, can be enough to lower their risk of popping off prematurely.
Some bees only get one shot at love in this life, we owe it to them to make it count.