You may wonder why you never see honey bees in the winter time. Do they hibernate? Do they die, only to be active again when the young emerge from the hive as the weather warms? Most bees and wasps do hibernate during winter months, but the honey bee does not. They actually remain active all winter long and this is how they survive the harsh weather and lack of flowers.
The honey bee’s ability to survive the winter depends upon the hive and the food storage within the hive. Keeping warm takes energy and that takes honey. If the colony inside the hive runs low on honey (food for energy), the colony will not survive. So, how does it work? It’s actually quite efficient.
Out You Go!
As summer winds down and cool weather arrives, the worker bees drive out the drones and only the worker bees and queen stay in the hive. The drones are now useless to the colony because there is no mating to be done. It may sound cruel but in the honey bee world, it’s the only way to survive so the drones are driven out to starve in the winter months. The remaining honey bees settle into the hive waiting for temperatures to drop below 57 degrees F. The queen stops laying eggs to prevent more mouths to feed and conserve energy. The workers focus on insulating the colony.
It’s a Cluster…No, Really!
The honey bees then form a tight cluster around the queen and her group. They point their heads inward. This keeps everyone warm. The bees on the inside of the circle feed on the honey. The outer layer of bees provide insulation. As the temperates rise, the bees move apart to allow space to enter the cluster. As temperatures drop, they gather closer again for warmth.
As the bees get cold, they actually shiver, but it’s a controlled shiver, activating their flight muscles and not their wings. With thousands of bees shivering at once in a hive, the temperature can actually raise to over 90 degrees F!
What About Us?
And remember those guys on the outside of the hive? Well, when the shivers start and the temperature is raising, the inner layer moves back to allow the outer layer to feed. During warmer spells, everyone is constantly changing places. If there is a long extreme cold spell, the moving is essentially halted so that energy is conserved and warmth is maintained. After all, none of the bees want to freeze to death when honey reserves are just inches within their reach!
Movin’ and Shakin’
The honey bees continue to feed, move and shiver throughout the winter, until warm weather arrives and they can locate new food sources. Once flowers begin to bloom, they will fly out, forage for pollen and the cycle begins again.
Want to learn more about honey bees? Stay tuned! We not only use their products but we love to educate as well!