Snow, sleet, blustery cold on Halloween is not that uncommon in Wisconsin. Our first snowfall got us thinking about what the bees do during the cold winter months. As the temperatures begin to drop and the days grow shorter, many of us relish the thought of cozying up indoors with a hot drink. But have you ever stopped to wonder what our buzzing friends, the honey bees, are doing during the winter months? The Waterford Bee Company is here to shed some light on the magical world of bees in wintertime.
One of the most fascinating winter behaviors of honey bees is their formation of a cluster. As the temperature drops, worker bees huddle around the queen, vibrating their bodies to generate heat. This keeps the queen at a steady temperature of about 93°F (34°C). The outer layer of bees acts as insulation, and when they get cold, they rotate with the bees from the warmer center.
During summer, bees are busy foraging for nectar and making honey. Come winter, they rely on this stored honey for energy. A strong colony can consume up to 30 pounds of stored honey over the winter months! This is why it's essential for beekeepers, like us at the Waterford Bee Company, to ensure that each hive has enough honey to sustain them through the winter.
On warmer winter days (yes that random day that you can toss on a hoodie and jeans), you might spot a few bees venturing outside. These are usually cleansing flights, as bees avoid soiling their hive. They’ll take short flights to defecate and then quickly return to the warmth of the cluster (you try holding it in for 2 or 3 months).
Maintenance and Cleaning
Bees are incredibly hygienic creatures. Even during the winter, worker bees take time to clean and maintain the hive, ensuring that it remains a safe and disease-free environment. They remove any dead bees and debris that might be present, ensuring a fresh start for spring.
Protecting the Queen
The queen bee is the heart of the hive, and her health and safety are paramount for the colony's survival. During winter, her reproductive system slows down, and she stops laying eggs. The worker bees' primary objective during these colder months is to protect and keep the queen warm. The bees need to maintain a high temp for the queen to protect her reproductive system through the winter.
Conservation of Energy
While it might seem like bees are less active in winter, it's more about conserving energy. The cluster’s movement is minimal, and they focus on maintaining the hive’s temperature. Bees also reduce their metabolic rate and enter a state known as 'torpor' to conserve energy.
Supporting Bees during Winter
Here at the Waterford Bee Company, we take special care to ensure our bees are well-prepared for winter. This involves:
Leaving enough honey: We always ensure that we leave sufficient honey in the hives to sustain our bee colonies, we will slip in sugar cakes in January or February if the weather permits.
Providing insulation: Sometimes, we might add insulation around the hives to protect them from extreme cold. This can include wrapping our hives, adding moisture boards and providing wind breaks
Monitoring for pests and diseases: Keeping our bees healthy is a year-round job. We constantly monitor for any signs of pests or diseases that could jeopardize the health of the colony.
The winter life of a honey bee is one of unity, resilience, and preparation. As the snow falls and the world around them transforms, these incredible insects come together, combining their strength and resources to ensure the survival of the colony. The next time you enjoy a spoonful of honey on a chilly day, take a moment to appreciate the hard work and determination of the bees that made it possible.
Interested in learning more about honey bees or looking for high-quality honey products? Visit the Waterford Bee Company, where we're passionate about all things bee-related!