All organisms, including honey bees, balance the resources and effort dedicated to three primary aims: Survival, Growth & Reproduction. For the honeybee, the latter includes the production of drones and their dispersal for mating activities. A colony will start the necessary drone comb production as one of the first signs of maturity, long before Queen cells start appearing. This activity marks a developmental milestone, but how do bees determine this moment?
After a series of practical field experiments using enlarged display hives, it seems that bees are capable of assessing their own population density; so "squeezed up" bees make more drone comb.
One memorable experiment involved mechanically stroking the bees with slowly rotating tickling sticks. Though Ken Dodd would certainly have approved, the bees remained unaffected. Tickling is not their thing! Also, large, dense colonies produced more drone comb. Michael Smith then remarked that worker bees default to making drone comb when there is no active laying Queen.
It is remarkable that after centuries of beekeeping experience we still need to find good answers to such simple questions about honeybee behaviour.
The recording can still be viewed with passcode: M#^98!xN