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What do honeybees do in the winter?

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 becausebeelievers 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!

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2 Thoughts to “What do honeybees do in the winter?”

  1. Emily and Gary Perdue

    New beekeepers here. Is it normal to find a few dead bees on the floor after the weather we have had the last few nights in the mid to high 20. We are in South Carolina. We made a cover out of insulation board that we place over them when it gets below 40. It does have a hole in the front so that they can go straight. Into the hive box door and they have two feeders. Very dis hearting to see yesterday when we checked on them.

    1. beeadmin

      Thank you for writing! There are a few reasons you may see dead bees during the winter.
      For one, if the bees do not get enough air they can suffocate. Too much insulation and not enough ventilation will cause a lot of condensation in the top of the hive resulting in the bees getting wet and dying.
      Also, if the bees do not have enough food the bees will freeze to death.
      Winter is also when diseases and pests kill bees.

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