Post by Curtis, Information Services staff
Ever wonder what happens to the bees in the winter? As we look out at our hives here at 85 Queen, things seem awfully quiet but what’s really happening inside these normally busy boxes? As the cold winds blow and insect activity has diminished, this is actually a crucial time for our bees as they try to keep warm at home with enough food to last the season.
Although seemingly inactive, our hives are still a buzz with activity. During the cold winter months, designated worker bees are still hard at work ensuring that the brood is kept warm. Unfortunately to cut down on the size and food requirements, drone bees are not accepted back in for the winter, they are left out to fend for themselves.
Despite this sad decision, it is ultimately for the greater good! The bees do not have the comforts of a cozy fireplace or hot cocoa. Nor do they have Hygge to keep their spirits up. Instead they use the friction of their bodies. Shaking their proverbial bee booties, the workers move around using their motions to generate heat, staying close to one-another to stay warm.
The queen is at the centre of all this so that she can be secure. As heat is generated workers come in and out of the group huddle as they share the different levels of warmth being on the outer layer where it’s cooler, and being warmer in the centre.
The colony can maintain a temperature of 33 degrees Celsius at the centre. To regulate the temperature, the bees on the outside of the huddle will move a little farther apart to let airflow in. As temperatures drop, the bees tighten together to hold in the warmth.
When it gets warmer, bees will move toward their honey stores to gather more food, to bring to the cluster. When long bouts of cold weather happen, the bees have to try and survive on what they have gathered close to them in hopes of having enough to survive before they can branch out and gather more of their stores.
The ability to survive during the winter also depends heavily on the amount of honey that is stored by the colony. A typical hive collects more than enough to store for the winter, roughly 25lbs. In some cases a hive can collect up to 60lbs worth of honey to store! All of this is to ensure survival during the winter months.
Unfortunately for our pollinator friends, the large changes in day time to night time temperatures resulting from the climate crisis is proving destructive to bee populations. Since they need gradual changes in temperature to help them regulate their heat, drastic changes harm them greatly. As we continue as a society to curb these issues there are things we can each do on an individual level, to try and help our bees in their struggle during the winter months. To make their food, bees require pollen and nectar to be gathered throughout the year. By planting pollinator plants you can help by providing the bees greater access to food throughout the spring, summer and fall.
So during these cold dark months, keep in mind our fuzzy flying friends and keep an eye out as they emerge in the spring to keep up their important work of pollinating all our plants.
Check out more info about our bees through our 85 Green initiative.
Learn More About Bees
Check out these resources about honeybees, all free with a KPL card.
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: Bees
- Summa Video: Pollinators: The Wild, Wild East
- DVD: More than Honey
- Book: A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings: A Year of Keeping Bees