Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Length of Drone Sperm

The topic at last night’s meeting at our bee club(BYBA)was Selective Honeybee Breeding and frankly, it was much more interesting than I anticipated. The speaker, Dr Ernesto Guzman, an expert in genetics and parasitic mites, is a professor of Apiculture at the University of Guelph. (Weren’t the Guelphs one of the rival factions fighting over Papal supremacy in renaissance Florence? In which case, what are they doing in northern Ontario?)

Any talk that includes phrases such as Drone Flooding Techniques and Cryopreservation of Drone Semen will get my attention.

And as I am sure you all know, any discussion of selective honeybee breeding must sooner or later come round to the matter of instrumental insemination of the Queen, and the difficulties thereof. It is difficult to collect the drone sperm and it is difficult to inseminate the queen, both.
Enter the World’s EXPERT in the Cryopreservation of Animal Semen. Yes, there is such a person and her specialty is Elephant Semen. One can only imagine all the ways in which collecting semen from elephants differs from collecting semen from drone honeybees.

Which leads to perhaps the most astounding fact of the evening: A simple graph showing the relative length of human sperm, bull sperm and drone sperm.

You could never guess.

Human sperm is 6µm in length.
Bull sperm is 70 µm
Drone sperm is 270 µm.
NB: µm=micrometer=one millionth of a meter=one thousandth of a millimeter. Also known as a micron.

You read that correctly. Drone sperm is 4 times as long as bull sperm and 45 times as long as human sperm.

On so many levels this seems counter intuitive and just plain crazy. Consider the little drone. Consider the polyandrous Queen. Unlike cows and human females, she does not copulate on multiple occasions over time. She takes one, possibly 2, mating flights and copulates with up to 20 drones, taking in enough sperm to last her a lifetime of laying up 1500 eggs a day (during the honey season).
I will never regard a drone again with the same dismissiveness.

1 comment:

Rebecca Rice said...

Very entertaining entry! Who would have thought drone sperm could be so deliciously extravagant! Science really is stranger than fiction!