Beekeepers get asked this question when the weather turns cold. And if they don’t, you might wonder– what do they do this time of year? Do bees hibernate in the winter?
Going into fall and winter there are only workers and the queen left inside the hive. The goal at this point is to survive until spring. To do this the bees bunch together in a tight ball called the winter cluster. At the center of this cluster is the queen, the mother of every bee in the hive, kept warm and safe amid her own offspring.
The bees rotate from the inside cluster to the outside so that no bees ever get too cold. The colder the weather is the tighter the bees cluster. The bees shiver to generate heat. That’s why honeybees don’t hibernate.
The cluster moves around the hive a bit to be next to honey they’ll consume for survival. Beekeepers never take honey from this part of the hive called the hive body, brood boxes, or nesting boxes. If the beekeeper feels that the bees have not stored up a sufficient amount of honey for a long winter they feed the bees to help them remain strong until spring.
Occasionally bees do leave the hive in winter. On days where the temperatures are high enough (about 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit) the bees will fly out of the hive for cleansing flights to eliminate waste. Honeybees are meticulous about the inside of the hive and never eliminate waste there. When it does happen it is the sign of a serious problem. Even during January there are still places to gather pollen if the weather is warm enough for the girls to go out. If you have camellias then you may have seen bees very busy on sunny winter days.
While honeybees do not hibernate other types of bees such as carpenter bees and bumblebees who are solitary do hibernate. For those species, it is only the mated queen who survives until spring. Here’s an article about what to plant to attract a variety of pollinators to your garden.
You can help many kinds of bees survive winter by leaving things in your garden like plants that have hollow stems. Tiny species of bees overwinter there.
Meanwhile beekeepers who also don’t get to hibernate but do get a few quiet months during winter can use this time efficiently. Reading up on beekeeping, going over last season’s notes, and repairing equipment are all things that can get taken care of during this time of year.
Featured image from: @truedo.sk
Michelle is a beekeeper and master gardener. She writes about beekeeping and gardening and loves to take pictures in the hives to share her love of bees with readers. She's interested in helping people reuse and upcycle objects for use in the home and garden. She never met a potting shed she didn't like. You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.
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