The amount of drone comb is under regulation by the colony. The regulation is imperfect and the limits to drone brood are broad in interval.
The construction of honey storage comb is usually of very large cell. In an unmanaged hive the honey storage comb is of no impact to the brood nest. In a movable frame hive, especially one where all frames are "mediums", honey storage comb will mix into the brood nest comb, and this causes management issues.
The greatest complication of foundationless comb is comb that mixes several types on a single frame. A queen laying into these combs may find a usable brood oval of only a couple hundred cells, instead of 1500. This cramping, caused by idiosyncratic comb sizes, drives swarm
Pratt's two papers on the subject are fascinating. They generally support the idea that the colony has a feedback mechanism that converges on a particular (17%) fraction of drone brood. The validity of the feedback mechanism does not obscure the particular management issues driven by non-uniform comb.
Apidologie 35 (2004) 193–205
Collective control of the timing and type of comb
construction by honey bees (Apis mellifera)
Stephen C. PRATT*
3.2. Regulation of drone comb
Once a queenright colony grows large
enough to build both drone and worker comb,
it closely regulates the proportions of each in
its nest. Mature feral nests in upstate New
York, for example, were found to contain a
mean 17% drone comb by area, with a range of
10.0% to 24.2% (Seeley and Morse, 1976).
Experimental studies of hived colonies building
their comb from scratch found greater variation,
with drone comb proportions ranging
from 0% to 34.7% (Lee and Winston, 1985)
and 0% to 27% (Page et al., 1993), perhaps
reflecting the colonies’ relative youth and
Stephen C. Pratt
Decentralized control of drone comb construction in honey bee colonies
Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1998) 42: 193±205
The results of this study confrm earlier reports (Free
1967; Free and Williams 1975; Page et al. 1993) that the
amount of drone comb in a honey bee nest is governed
by negative feedback from drone comb already con-
structed (experiments 1 and 5). They further show that
this inhibition depends on the workers having direct
contact with the drone comb in their nest, but does not
depend on the queen's contact with the comb (experi-
ments 2, 3 and 5). Finally, they show that the comb
itself, rather than the brood within it, is su�cient to
produce the negative feedback, although the brood may
also contribute to the effect (experiments 4 and 5). These
findings are consistent with a mechanism for drone
comb regulation based on decentralized control by the
builders rather than centralized control by the queen.