What do Honeybees do in the Winter?

So, what do honeybees do in the winter? With temperatures dipping down into the 20’s here at night and barely getting into the 40’s during the day, the bee hive is a much quieter place these days.  With no flowers about, there is no reason for the bees to leave the hive, and so like many of us, they spend the winter months indoors. Read on to learn more about the cold weather habits of these amazing animals.


So, what do honeybees do in the Winter?

 When temperatures drop into the 50’s, honey bees cluster together to conserve and share their heat. By shivering, they produce more heat and help to warm the air and those around them. The colder the temperatures, the tighter they cluster.  The center of the cluster where the queen is can kept around 80 degrees, although the edges are often colder.  You may also notice dead bees around your hive at the beginning of winter, these are the drones that are forced out of the hive at the onset of the cold weather.  Although brutal this is normal and is important to the survival of the hive.

What do Bees Eat in the Winter?

Throughout the winter months, the bees will consume the honey they’ve stored during the summer.  A strong hive can eat up to 30 pounds of honey a season!  Unlike bumblebees that hibernate, and wasps that die out each winter, honeybees rely on the ability to produce enough heat to survive the cold season.  If the colony is too small, has a weak queen, or did not produce enough honey, they will not be able to withstand a long season of cold.

How to Manage Your Beehive in the Winter

Some beekeepers choose to wrap their hives in the winter to add insulation and help the bees keep the cluster warm.  If you experience prolonged periods of below 0 temperatures, wrapping your hive to keep out the wind may help a hive survive the winter.  If you choose to wrap your hive, make sure you allow moisture to escape or dripping water can seriously damage the health of your hive.  Basic Beekeeping has some wonderful thoughts and ideas about monitoring and mitigating the moisture in your hives.

Keep your eyes out through the winter on those warm days and you will see a small straggle of bees leaving the hive for quick flights.  These bees are taking a short flight to eliminate waste before returning to the warmth of the hive.  Like so many animals, it is a long cold struggle to make it through the winter, and a reason of celebration when the spring comes and the flowers bloom again.

Here are some Tips for Keeping Bees Over the Winter

The role of worker bees in preparing for winter:

  1. Reducing the hive population: Beekeepers can work with their colonies to ensure a balanced population going into winter. This involves removing any excess bees, which not only conserves food resources but also prevents overcrowding that can lead to stress and disease.
  2. Storing food for the winter: Beekeepers can supplement their hives with extra food, such as sugar syrup or fondant, to ensure that the bees have enough honey reserves to sustain them throughout the cold season. Proper feeding can make a significant difference in their survival.

The transformation of worker bees into winter bees

Beekeepers should monitor their colonies for the development of winter bees. These bees have different physiological characteristics, such as increased fat stores and longer lifespans, making them better equipped to endure the winter. If necessary, beekeepers can adjust their management practices to encourage the production of winter bees.

Sealing the hive

  1. Insulating the hive: Beekeepers can insulate their hives to help maintain a stable temperature inside during the winter. This can be done using materials like foam boards or blankets placed around the hive. Proper insulation minimizes heat loss and reduces the bees’ energy expenditure on heating the hive.
  2. Protecting against predators: To safeguard their colonies, beekeepers should ensure that the hive entrances are appropriately secured with entrance reducers or mouse guards. This helps keep out unwanted guests like mice and other small predators that might seek shelter in the hive during the winter months. Regularly inspecting and repairing any hive damage can also prevent intrusions.
What do honeybees do in the Winter?
What do honeybees do in the Winter?

If you’re looking to learn more about bees, check out:

4 thoughts on “What do Honeybees do in the Winter?”

  1. Specialised ’heater bees’ have been discovered by researchers at the Würzburg University, Germany. These heater bees live deep within the nest. Their body temperature is actually higher than other bees, which lead to them being described as 'living radiators'.

    It sounds like science fiction, but it is just another role within the hive. The main job of heater bees is to maintain the temperature within the brood, as slight changes in temperature can dramatically affect the development of pupae.

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