How to collect drone larvae from the bee hive


Drones are male honey bees. Unlike the female worker bee, drones do not have a stinger and do not participate in nectar and pollen gathering. A drone's primary role is to mate with an infertile queen.
The value of drone larvae as a nutritional supplement has been proven in many studies conducted over the years and drone larvae have been used as food for thousands of years by the most ancient civilizations such as Chinese, Egyptian, Mayan, etc.  Drone larvae therefore offer the opportunity to the beekeeper to generate extra income from the extraction and processing of drone larvae and to use drone larvae for improved health and wellbeing.  This technology explains how to collect drone larvae from the hive.


1. Why eat drone larvae?

Adult and larval honeybees contain reasonable amounts of protein. They could serve as a direct food source once the beekeeper has no more need for extra bees or brood, or when undesired colonies have to be removed.

The drone larvae protein content is as much as traditional protein sources such as cattle (see table 1) or chicken.  While it is difficult to imagine that honeybee larvae will become a major source of protein, they are a special delicacy in some countries.

Picture 1: Frame with worker cells (upper part) and drone cells (lower part of the comb). The size of the drone cells is clearly bigger than the size of the worker cell.

A colony begins to rear drones in spring and the drone population reaches its peak coinciding with the swarm season in late spring and early summer. The beekeeper can differentiate the drone larvae from the worker larvae because the cells from drones are bigger than the cells from worker bees (see Picture 1).  The drone larvae can be collected from the 6th day until the 22th day after the deposit of the eggs.

Drone brood development:

2. Drone larvae as food

In many African and Asian countries, brood combs (with worker bee and drone larvae) are considered a delicacy and are consumed immediately when available (see picture 2) or eaten after processing of the larvae (see Technoloy “How to process drone larvae”). For several cultures, brood is said to form a considerable part of the diet. Drone larvae are also particularly rich in proteins, vitamins and hormones. 

Picture 2: Zambian beekeeping extension officer, demonstrating an alternative use for bee brood (FAO)


Table 1:Composition of mature and immature honeybees compared to beef and soybeans (in % of fresh weight; vitamins in International Units per g fresh weight) modified from Crane, 1990. (FAO)

Drone larvae also contain testosterone, progesterone, oestradiol, decenoic acids and hydrogen ions concentration.

3. Removing larvae from the combs

The removal of drone larvae will affect the colony performance less than the removal of worker larvae. Drone production can be promoted by the beekeeper using removeable frame hives by providing drone size combs. In areas where varroa is controlled by trapping the parasite in drone cells and removing the freshly sealed drone brood, the use of these otherwise discarded larvae may be considered. 

3.1. Uncaping sealed drone larvae

First take a serrated knife and cut the surface of the sealed drone larvae cells recently removed from the hive (see Picture 3).  This process is also called "uncapping".  It may be easier to uncap the cells when the knife has been warmed a bit.

Picture 3: Uncapping sealed brood (FAO).

After cutting the surface of the combs you can see that some drone larvae are difficult to remove because the cells are slightly deformed by cutting away the cappings (Picture 4).

Picture 4: Uncapped comb (FAO).

To remove the drone larvae from the cells, shake them out on a clean table or surface. Use aclean plastic sheet to help the collection of the larvae from the table. (see Picture 5).

Picture 5: Shaking out larvae (FAO).

If the drone larvae cannot go out easily, fill the cells with water and then shake the frame again on top of the table (see Picture 6).

Picture 6: Filling the drone larvae cells with water (FAO).

After collecting all drone larvae from the combs you can use a strainer to wash the larvae before processing them (see Picture 7).

Picture 7: Bee larvae in a strainer for rinsing (FAO).

Where traditional hives or topbar hives are used and the combs cannot be reused,  the whole comb may be squeezed or boiled. This works best with new combs, but cells should be uncapped prior to boiling. Melt the wax in a hot water bath (1 pot in another pot with water), the wax will start to melt around 60-65 degrees C. The melted wax will harden at the surface and the larvae willl sink to the bottom.  Some larvae will still have to be removed from older combs and occasionally from cocoons.  The flavour of the larvae will be affected by this method.

Alive brood should only be stored inside a hive.  Combs with brood removed from the hive for comsumption should be refrigerated immediately or else consumed or processed immediately.  Refrigerated brood should be processed within 24 hours and in hot and humid climates in less than 6 hours.


This technology is extracted from the publication “Value added products of the Beehive” ( and compiled and completed by Antonio Couto.  Picture 1 is a courtesy of Camilo Ruiz Ruiz




Further reading

Value added products of the beehive”

See also the following discussion on how to extract drone larvae from the comb on the TECA Beekeeping Exchange Group:

Created date

Mon, 29/08/2016 - 10:40


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