What do bees do in the winter?
1 December 2020
…Is a question I have been asked many times, and usually with a follow on question of “do they all die off?” Well luckily as a beekeeper they do not or life would be very difficult for us all. The bees go, effectively, into a winter mode.
They start to realise that the amount of forage is reducing coupled with the dropping temperatures so the bees start to reduce their numbers. To do this the males tend to be booted and the queen reduces the number of eggs being laid significantly.
In the summer the queen can easily lay some 1,500 eggs PER DAY, whereas now this will be severely reduced. So with the natural lifespan of bees and the reduction of new ones the colony number drops from around 80,000-100,000 bees in mid summer to around 10,000 bees in the winter. To conserve energy they group together in a ball and keep warm by producing heat. This heat is made by disengaging their wings but using the same muscles to flap them thus creating heat. Imagine a car not in gear but you are trying to accelerate, the engine will soon get warm… it’s the same principle but with wings and muscles. Instead of fossil fuels they use honey to power it!
So they huddle together to form a ball until the sun starts to shine in the spring and they start to look for nectar again. But of course, they sometimes get confused on a warm winters day and fly out only then realising there are no flowers as yet, so go back for a little cwtch until another day.