Winter is a time that any creature would need to find a place to hide until the next season so as to survive, if not they would freeze to death. Some hide underground, others hibernate, humans spend most time indoors but what about bees?
Different bee species respond differently to the winter. Honey bees do not hibernate but cluster together in the hive to keep warm. Bumblebees, all die off except the queen who hibernates underground, while solitary bees respond migrating to warmer areas or hibernate in underground burrows.
|Bee Species||How they survive the winter||Member Surviving the winter||Location during winter||State During Winter|
|Honey Bee||Clustering||Drones, Workers, Queen||Hive||Active|
|Solitary Bee||Migrate/Hibernate||Queen||Warmer areas or Burrows||Dormant|
Here is a summary of the normal happenings for the different kinds of bees during winter.
Do Bees Hibernate?
The freezing temperatures can kill the bees if they do not find a mechanism for survival.
Unlike most animals and insects that hibernate during winter, honey bees employ a different strategy altogether to keep themselves alive.
Extremely low temperatures are unconducive to the normal functioning of the honey bee. When it is too low, the bees would not even be able to fly, not to mention that at the time there are no flowers in bloom. Therefore, it is meaningless for the bees to be outside the hive, for there is even no food to forage for.
Before the winter, the honey bees start preparing themselves. By this time, they would have saved enough reserve food (honey) to keep them alive all through the winter because honey bees do not become dormant during winter. They remain active but within the hive.
When the temperatures have gone too low, the bees limit all their activities outside the hive hiding inside. To keep warm they huddle together with the queen at the center. The queen is prioritized in this huddle because she is the hope for a strong colony after the winter. By this time, she has stopped laying eggs, taking a break until early spring.
The cluster positions itself in such a way that the worker bees form the outer layer so that they will be the first to go in case things go wrong and they are unable to remain alive.
Within this cluster, the bees are able to regulate the temperatures, sometimes making it tighter or lose depending on whether it is too warm or too cold. To generate heat, the bees also shiver their wings.
But clustering alone is not enough to keep the colony alive, they also need food. It is for this reason that good beekeeping practices are required. It is not wise to harvest all the honey leaving the bees with nothing. A starving colony will not have sufficient energy to generate heat for keeping themselves warm during this time. Leave your colony enough reserve to last them the winter. At times, you may even have to provide additional feed in the form of sugar syrup.
You must monitor your honey bees during this time if you don’t want to lose your colony.
Ensure you help your bees to prepare for the winter. Check to make sure any old hives have been repaired and that there are no openings that can let in drafts of cold air. Sometimes you may have to cover the hives to keep away the cold air or move them to a shaded or sheltered area.
Adhering to these procedures will help you avoid losing your entire colony and starting afresh come spring.
You can therefore see those honey bees do not hibernate, neither do they remain totally active. They have reduced activity during this wintertime. But the story is different in bumblebees and solitary bees. Both of these categories of bees, sleep all the way through winter, only to emerge when the weather has warmed up.
They are not like bumblebees, they hibernate during winter. Not the entire colony, only the mated queens.
Bumblebees have only a one-year cycle. Eggs normally hatch during summer to give rise to a population of queens and drones. These mate and raise new colonies.
But when winter comes around, the males and worker bumblebees die off and only the queen is left so that the entire species will not be wiped off.
The surviving queen finds a place to hide throughout the winter period, it is from this location that she hibernates.
As soon as the winter season has ended, the queen emerges, starts foraging for food and finds a suitable location for building a nest. It is here that she lays her eggs. Keep in mind that these are fertilized eggs and will hatch into worker bees and the unfertilized ones will become drones. Through this, a single queen is able to raise another generation of bumblebees who will go through the same cycle every year.
What makes this possible in bumblebees is because they are different from honey bees. The queen honey bee cannot survive more than a few days on her own, because all her needs are taken care of by the workers including personal grooming and feeding.
The bumblebee queen is different, she has the ability to survive on her own all through winter and even afterward.
Just like bumblebees, they also have a one-year life cycle. Their mechanism for surviving the winter is not much different either from that of the bumblebee.
Solitary bees employ two possible strategies for beating the winter. Either move to warmer areas that are not affected by the winter or hibernate.
Right before winter, the female bees build a nest for laying eggs that will hatch the next season from where a new generation of bees will rise.
The female solitary bee finds a convenient cavity and forages for pollen and nectar. She rolls this combination into a ball of bee bread and places it in the nest. It is here that she lays her eggs. The bee bread will be the food for the newly hatched bees. The larva feeds on this food meanwhile it undergoes the full cycle of development from larva to adult and will emerge from the nest just when the weather conditions are better in the new season.
Therefore, although the female and male bees may die off during winter, there is still a guarantee for a new population to rise from the warm brood.
In some types of solitary bees, once they have hidden their brood they migrate to warmer areas to be safe from the winter.
Do Bees Go Underground For Winter?
While some bees do go underground during winter, not all do this. It depends on the species.
Honey bees do not live underground and neither do they hibernate during winter, remaining fairly active throughout. It is in these same hives that they hide when winter kicks in.
You will not find honey bees going underground during winter. But the beekeeper must do due diligence to seal any holes in the hives that may let in water or cold air. If necessary, cover the hives. But do it in a way that the hive will not become too hot or the bees will be suffocated to death.
The normal dwelling place for bumblebees is underground or even cavities. During winter, the safest place for the only surviving member of the colony (the bumblebee) is underground.
Therefore, the queen will hibernate underground awaiting spring when she will emerge, build a new nest and begin laying eggs to raise a new population of bumblebees.
The underground nest for hibernation does not have to be big, it only needs to be sufficient for the queen bumblebee. Males and workers will die off when winter begins to set in or earlier.
Like bumblebees, solitary bees also make their home in underground cavities.
Come wintertime, the queens will have found a suitable underground burrow to lay their eggs which will hatch and emerge after winter.
Some solitary hibernates in underground burrows, but others opt to migrate to warmer areas.
Solitary bees find underground burrows appropriate for their nest and for laying their eggs because the eggs will remain warmed up all through the winter.
What to Do If You Find a Bee in winter?
Bumblebees are mostly associated with summer but it is not rare to bump into a bee during winter. But this is not the norm though, because no bee would want to be found outside its safe zone in freezing temperatures. The cold makes it even harder for the bees to fly around.
If you meet any bees outside during winter, do not fall into the temptation of bringing them into your house. Especially when you are unsure of the type of bee it is, do not make such a mistake.
You may do more harm than good. Not only to the bee but also to yourself.
Chances are the bee that you encounter outside during winter is a queen belonging to the bumblebee or solitary bee category. It may have been out to forage for some food in case its resources have been depleted, though this is very rare.
Bumblebees have been known to be more tolerant to the cold compared to the other type of bees. When the temperatures are not too cold, the bumblebee can gather enough energy and venture outside her nest.
To help such a bee, especially when you find her struggling, take her to the nearest flowering plant. Alternatively, place it in a sheltered area so that it can recover and have the energy to fly back to its nest.
Understand that part of the bumblebee’s lifecycle entails that stage where they will be flying about in the cold climate.
Do not feed the bee with sugar. Watery sugar syrup can do more harm to the bee than good. Due to the cold, watery sugar syrup will affect the normal functioning of the bee at times it will cause diarrhea and probably kill the bee.
What Month Do Bees Come Out?
There is a season when bees disappear and when they come out. During winter, you will not commonly see bees flying around because they are almost unable to fly around. Thus they will either hibernate in the case of bumblebees and solitary bees or cluster together in the case of honey bees.
When the winter season starts ending and temperatures get warmer, that is the time you will notice bees starting to come out of their hiding place to forage for food, mate and reproduce.
Bees will become active when spring sets in and they will remain around all through summer until fall. When temperatures continue to get lower, the cycle of hibernation and clustering will then be repeated and this is the trend throughout the year.
Do Bees Die Off In the Winter?
Some bees die during winter but not all types.
In bumblebees and solitary bees, the majority of the population dies off. Particularly the drones and the worker bees. All the adults belonging to these two categories die off and only the queens survive.
Queen bumblebees and queen solitary bees survive because they will lay eggs that will hatch to bring forth a new population. The hatched eggs will become male bees and workers later on when winter ends.
But honey bees are different. They do not die off during winter.
Although the cold temperatures sometimes kill some bees, honey bees ideally are capable of surviving until the next season by working together through a mechanism known as clustering together. They pile up together to combine their body heat.
The next time you encounter a bee, take a moment to appreciate the wonder of nature and how so much goes on behind the background to help bees survive.