How Do Honeybees Prepare for Winter?

How Do Honeybees Prepare for Winter?

Honeybees prepare for winter through tirelessly buzzing about and contributing to the harmony of our world. Bees play a vital role in our ecosystem, but have you ever wondered what honeybees do during the winter months? While you might imagine them hibernating like bears, the reality of their winter routine is quite busy. Let's take a closer look at the fascinating ways bees adapt to the cold and why it's crucial for their survival.

cluster of bees in apiary

Unlike bumblebees and wasps, honeybees have a unique approach to preparing for winter

Instead of hibernating, these diligent creatures remain active even as temperatures dip below 60 degrees. They are like busy little squirrels, meticulously stockpiling food to ensure they have enough sustenance to last through the cold months.

Interestingly, honeybees have a surprising similarity to squirrels when it comes to weathering the winter chill: they shiver! Yes, you heard that right! By shivering, honeybees generate their own warmth to combat the biting cold and maintain a cozy temperature.

How do honeybees prepare for winter

During the winter, the survival of the entire hive depends on the well-being of the queen bee

To keep her warm and ensure her survival, the worker bees form a tightly-knit cluster around her at the center of the hive. This incredible cluster generates enough warmth to safeguard not only the queen but also the other bees, even in the most frigid temperatures.

Finding the Queen with Dale Large

Now, let's explore the strategies employed by other creatures to adapt to the changing seasons. Some bears choose a long winter nap, hibernating until spring reemerges, while birds embark on awe-inspiring journeys, flying south to warmer climates. Mother Nature works in mysterious ways, with each species utilizing its unique strategy to brave the frosty weather.

So, the next time you find yourself contemplating how honeybees prepare for winter, remember the remarkable efforts they make in stockpiling provisions, remaining active, and shivering to stay warm. These incredible creatures exemplify the resilience and adaptability of nature, serving as a true inspiration to us all.

Kara on Chesterhaven Beach Farm in Winter

Discover how bees diligently prepare for winter with these six essential steps:

1. Protecting the queen bee is the primary task during winter. Bees ensure her safety and warmth by performing various responsibilities that secure the hive's survival in the cold months. Their top priority is gathering and storing nectar and pollen for reserves.

2. Female honeybees (worker bees) expel male bees (drones) from the nest before winter because of their excessive consumption.

3. Bees work tirelessly until their lifespan ends, with worker bees lasting up to nine months in colder weather and approximately six weeks in warmer weather.

4. As cold-blooded creatures, honeybees maintain warmth in the hive to survive harsh winter conditions. Worker bees unite in a cluster formation, surrounding the queen bee at the center. By shivering and fluttering their wings together, they generate constant motion, which helps retain heat within the cluster. This collective vibration can elevate the cluster's temperature to an astounding 93 degrees. Unlike humans, bees focus solely on warming the cluster, conserving energy and resources.

Infrared shot of the hives on one of hte coldest days of the year as bees prepare for winter

5. The lower the temperature, the tighter the cluster becomes. During winter, honeybees rarely venture outside the hive, restricting their excursions to cleansing flights (commonly known as potty breaks). In the image provided, the yellow denotes the formation of clusters within the hive, captured on the coldest day of winter.

lots of bees

6. To endure the chilly months, bees require a consistent fuel source. This is where the stored honey becomes vital. In our apiary, we ensure there is at least 100 pounds of honey left in the hives, providing ample sustenance for the bees throughout winter. A single hive can consume up to 30 pounds of stored honey. It is crucial to provide more than enough honey for the bees and supplement with candy boards.

Maryland winters are unpredictable, with some days brutally cold and snowing and the days that follow can reach up to 60 degrees and sunny. On the warmer sunny days, bees will leave the hive to spread their wings and relieve themselves before returning back to the cluster. The cluster will also reposition itself in other areas of the hive where there is fresh honey to eat.

lone snow bee outside the hive as bees prepare for winter

Never open the hive in frigid temperatures, even if for only a few moments the intense cold can kill the bees.

During winter, honeybee deaths are usually not caused by the cold. Instead, it is typically the result of ailments like Varroa mites or other diseases. Surprisingly, hive population decline often starts when the weather is still warm, and everyone seems healthy. As a beekeeper, it can be quite shocking to witness the disappearance of a seemingly thriving hive. 

Over the course of twelve years in beekeeping, we only experienced one year where we lost all of our bees. However, we have since implemented significant changes in our apiary to prevent a recurrence. Varroa mites, external parasites similar to ticks, can infect bees with various diseases that ultimately prove fatal to a hive. To safeguard against these mites, it's crucial to treat the bees regularly throughout the season in preparation for winter.

lavender in the winter surrounded by snowWhile humans typically "hibernate" indoors during winter, enjoying the comfort of heated homes and avoiding the cold as much as possible, honeybees continue their arduous work uninterrupted. They tirelessly dedicate themselves from birth until the end without taking any breaks. Honeybees prepare for winter by storing enough food to last them through the cold season and they work together to keep the heat inside.

In winter, honeybees diligently gather honey and pollen to sustain themselves. In our region, they focus on building their family and fortifying their hive starting from early August. During this time, we refrain from disrupting the hive and provide supplementary food to maintain a healthy gut, offering ingredients such as herbs and protein. The goal is to promote strength in numbers, as a larger bee population results in a stronger hive and increases the chances of surviving the winter.

To bee or not to bee.


bees in the winter tall pin