Bees in Winter
Have you ever wondered, what happens to the bees in winter? They seem to be everywhere over the warmer month and then just disappear. As a beekeeper, we get this question a lot. Some of the most common types of bees in Texas are honeybees, bumblebees, mason bees and carpenter bees.
The role of a beekeeper isn’t over when the warmer months have passed us by. Winter is when we see the greatest amount of hive losses. This is an unfortunate part of beekeeping and dealing with nature.
Let’s look at what bees do in the winter.
Beekeepers in winter
Unfortunately, sometimes colonies die in the winter. This can happen if there isn’t enough food for them or their population is not large enough or even if they are exposed to any disease. Approximately 32% of managed colonies in 2021 were lost during the previous winter months.
Part of a beekeeper’s responsibilities is to help the bee colonies make it through the winter months. If we have a colony die in the winter months, there are many questions that we ask ourselves to try to figure out why. Did the colony have poor genetics? Did the colony exhibit signs of a virus before entering winter? What were the results of the last mite test? Did they have enough food? Was there excessive moisture? Did they have enough ventilation?
What do bees in winter do?
Honeybees cluster together in the winter to stay warm. They vibrate their bodies and emit heat from special cells on each wing. The center of the cluster stays around 95 degrees, this is where you will most likely find the queen bee.
The clusters are really interesting. They have two sections; the outer section is dense, and the inner section is loose. The outer section is made of tightly packed bees to retain heat. Going into the inner section, the bees are loosely packed and move around freely. As the temperature changes, the cluster will expand of contract.
Do bees in winter hibernate?
We are familiar with mammals hibernating during the winter months, but do bees do the same thing? The short answer is no, they do not hibernate. In hibernation, a mammal becomes inactive to conserve energy. Bees do not become inactive; the colony instead acts like a furnace by emitting heat from their wings.
If you look at the entrance of the hive, you won’t see a lot of movement. The bees don’t leave the hive in the winter. They are keeping the hive warm instead. There is also little to find to eat in the winter months. Bees will cluster when the temperature hits 64 degrees.
During the warmer days, you may see a little activity. Since we know there isn’t food outside for them, what do they leave the warmth of the hive for? They are very tidy and when possible, they leave the hive to go on cleansing flights.
How do bees in winter eat?
Keeping the hive warm 24 hours a day requires a lot of vibrations and A LOT of energy. So how do bees eat in the winter if there is no food? They eat the honey they have stored. Pollen is vital to their diet, but the honey is the main source of energy. They don’t waste their food stores. In order to help with this, the female worker bees kick out the male drone bees. While this seems harsh, drones only mate with the queen. Since there isn’t mating over the winter, the drones use resources that the colony can’t afford to part with.
Winter is a hard time for bees and their keepers. There are a lot of moving parts to ensure that the colonies survive. Unfortunately, there are no easy, quick tips that make sure colonies survive. There is still a lot to learn about bees in the winter.