Where Do Bees Go During The Winter Months?

Image of bee colony covered in snow

During the winter, most bees and wasps hibernate. Only the queen survives the winter in many species, emerging in the spring to restart a colony. Despite the frigid temperatures and lack of pollinating flowers to forage on, honey bees (Apis mellifera) stay active throughout the winter. They live off the honey they’ve made and saved during the winter, reaping the rewards of their labor.

Honey Bees In The Winter

Picture of beekeeper hives covered in snowDuring the winter, bee sightings are rare since the incredible insects are busy attempting to stay warm within the hive when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Bees will prepare for winter by ensuring that the hive is well-built, plenty of honey to eat, and a population of plump, healthy bees to trap heat within their cuddle party-like clusters. In the winter, bees do not hibernate. They flex their wings gently and constantly, creating vibrations that keep them and the hive warm during the winter. The queen been will reside in the center of the hive during the winter because it’s the warmest location, and she’s the most important member of any colony. Reproduction is halted during the winter to conserve hive resources. 1Go To Source colostate.edu -“What happens to bees in winter?”

During the winter, male bees, who are entirely responsible for fertilization, perish, leaving an all-female colony to fend for itself. The queen bee stays in the center of the cluster, where temperatures can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures outside the cluster can drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature outside the hive rises over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the bees may leave to relieve themselves before returning for the rest of the winter.

Honey Bees Prepare For Winter

Honey bees need to stay warm and eat in the cold to survive. Staying warm necessitates food and energy in the form of honey, and if the colony runs out of honey before spring, it may perish. One of the reasons honey bees work so hard during the summer to collect nectar, digest it, and store vast amounts of honey is because they need a mass amount to survive in cold weather.

Honey bees begin to settle in for the winter when summer gives way to fall, and their nectar or other sugar sources decrease. When the weather begins to cool, the bees start to assemble in their hive. Meanwhile, because food supplies are few in late fall and early winter, the queen stops laying eggs (conserving energy).

Honey Bee Winter Clustering

Bees are cold-blooded creatures. However, they do not just die off and leave nested eggs to carry the species through the winter, which is unusual. They don’t hibernate either. Instead, they stay active throughout the winter, consuming and metabolizing honey.

Throughout the winter, the queen is “hugged” by employees to maintain a constant temperature. The worker bees will form a cluster around her, confining her in a small but warm place (thus the term). They generate heat by “shivering” their flying muscles. Thousands of worker bees can generate a significant amount of heat.

Which Bees Species Hibernate During Winter?

Photograph of bees preparing for winterWhen compared to honeybees, bumblebees have a radically different method for dealing with cold weather. There is an annual life cycle for them. The workers, males, and elderly queens die off in the winter after the young queens are formed and mate in the summer and autumn. The freshly married queens usually hibernate during the winter. They dig into soft dirt or under logs and stones to avoid the frost, preferring north-facing banks to avoid being warmed up too early by the winter light. 2Go To Source psu.edu -“Bees In The Winter”

Carpenter bees, unlike bumblebees, are solitary creatures. Adult carpenter bees hibernate in abandoned nest tunnels over the winter and emerge in the spring to forage on nectar.

Bumblebee Hibernation Habits

During the winter, bumblebee colonies do not exist. Instead, the summer colony’s final brood will include several queens. Each of these queens will mate and then seek out a safe nesting spot for the winter. This is frequently a tiny hole in the ground or a similar safe place large enough for her. Bumblebee queens are the only bee species that hibernate till April. The colony as a whole perishes.

The bumblebee queen does not eat or work while she is hibernating. Her slowed metabolism allows her to live for lengthy periods of time while using very little energy.

Carpenter Bee Winter Activity

Carpenter bees, unlike bumblebees, are solitary creatures. Adult carpenter bees hibernate in abandoned nest tunnels over the winter and emerge in the spring to forage on nectar.

Carpenter bees, unlike bumblebees or honey bees, do not live in colonies. Adults spend the winter on their own, frequently in brood tunnels that they have previously constructed. The surviving carpenter bees will emerge in the spring and begin to mate with other survivors. 3Go To Source entomology.ca.uky.edu -“Carpenter Bees”

 

 

Sources:

  1. Mary Guiden. “What Happens to Bees in Winter?” Colostate.Edu, 19 June 2019, source.colostate.edu/what-happens-to-bees-in-winter.
  2. “Bees in the Winter.” Psu.Edu, 19 Jan. 2018, sites.psu.edu/beeseverywhere/2018/01/19/post11/comment-page-1.
  3. Potter, Michael F. “Carpenter Bees | Entomology.” Entomology.Uky.Edu, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, 7 Sept. 2018, entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef611.
  4. Basil Furgala. 1975. Chapter XVI; Fall Management and the Wintering of Productive Colonies. In: The hive and the honeybee. Dept. of Entomology, University of Minnesota, Dadant.
  5. Stone, David M. Overview of Bee Biology Archived 2006-12-31 at the Wayback Machine University of Illinois Laboratory Highschool; web accessed 29 July 2021.
  6. Charles D.Owens THE THERMOLOGY OF WINTERING HONEY BEE COLONIES. web accessed 29 July 2021
  7. bumble-bee, n”. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. web accessed 29 July 2021.
  8. Yanega, D. “Carpenter Bees, Order Hymenoptera Family Apidae, Genus Xylocopa”. U.C. Riverside Entomology Research Museum. web accessed 29 July 2021
  9. “Honeybee”. Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper. 2019. web accessed 29 July 2021.