Bee Happy: What do bees do in winter?

By Felecia Chavez

What happens to bees during the winter? Do they hibernate? What happens to the queen? How do they survive the cold winter months? These are questions people always ask. Honey bees are very organized and work efficiently. Each and every one of these small insects have a job and when born they know instinctively what their job will be in order to survive.

As the weather changes and it becomes colder, bees start to die off, the colony becomes smaller and not as energetic with their sole purpose being to keep the queen alive and healthy. With a smaller colony, they no longer have the ability to keep the whole hive warm and only concentrate on the cluster, remember the queen is the priority.

They cluster the queen and use vibration to keep the cluster warm but how exactly are they able to generate that heat?

When clustering they need to be able to produce enough heat to keep the hive viable, having those bees on the peripheral allows them to insulate the cluster and reduce heat loss. Those bees then rotate towards the center of the cluster. These are known as the heater bees.  What is absolutely remarkable is that these bees can actually get their core body temperature up to 111 Fahrenheit, they can then burrow into an empty cell and thereby warm the surrounding cells and brood.

We have taken steps to move our hives back to our bee yard, we then take any boxes that are not needed so that the hives are smaller and the bees do not have to work so hard to keep their home warm. It also makes it easier for them to get to their food stores.

Having the observation hive in my shop is a little bit different because it is inside a nice toasty building, but they do get chilled if we do not take steps to make the opening of the tunnel to the hive smaller. They do somewhat cluster the queen and at times it is difficult to see her, they do become less active but are still phenomenal to just watch. The heat they generate can be felt through the glass of the observation hive and people are incredulous that they can actually feel that much heat emanating from them.

I hope you stop by and see how they are over wintering in the shop!