It’s Winter...where are the honeybees?
Busy bees buzzing from flower to flower often signal that Spring or Summer is in the air.
But the absence of buzzing in Winter may leave you wondering where they go…
Well, if they are not lucky enough to live in subtropical climates, in Winter they’re probably working away to keep the ‘Queen Bee’ and their entire colony warm and alive.
Unlike most animals, bees keep ‘bzzzy’ in the Winter. Since they are cold blooded, bees have to work extra hard to stay warm in Winter when temperatures start dropping below 50°F (10°C).
With the absence of abundant plant life in the Winter, bees retreat to a cozy ‘winter cluster’ within their hives. These clusters can reach temperatures as high as 90–100 °F (32–37 °C) at the centre, and they consume up to 30 pounds of honey to stay alive.
But what is a winter cluster?
Basically a huge warm group bee hug, where female worker bees (incapable of reproducing) are fluttering and shivering away to keep the ‘Queen Bee’ and the colony warm.
Leave it to the ladies to keep their Queen safe. To do this, the female castes and worker bees band together to form a cluster, getting closer and more snug, expanding and contracting as temperatures fluctuate outside.
Honey bees strategically move around, feeding on fresh honey stores within the hive, often trading places to ensure they all stay fed and warm throughout the Winter. Plump bees usually take up the exterior cluster space as they have a longer lifespan surviving up to 4-6 months.
So what defines a successful Winter cluster that can survive the Winter?
A robust honey swarm, ready to work, plenty of honey to keep up their strength and a safe hive to call home for a few weeks.
Producing over 90 pounds of honey in the Summer is also a sure way for the bees to sufficiently survive the harsh Winter months.
How to prepare the hive...
Note to beekeepers:
Ensuring your hive has a sufficient honey reserve is crucial to their survival throughout the season, so make sure they have enough to consume.
Another important tip is to provide additional feed in the Spring before flowers start blooming - a time when starvation occurs most.
Home sweet, Home
So when the temperatures start to plummet and we’re all getting ready to spend more time indoors, honey bees are going ‘home sweet home’ for the Winter!
- Bees must visit 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey
- Honeybees are the only insect that produces food consumed by humans
- Over her lifetime, a worker bee will only produce 1 ½ teaspoons of honey