January 25th, 2016
During this weekend’s blizzard, I set my sights on planning my garden. Browsing inspirational Pinterest boards in addition to garden design books, I got to thinking – where do bees go in winter? Bears hibernate, birds migrate, but what about bees?
I detoured into “bee research” and learned a few things! Some types of bees actually do hibernate. Carpenter bees, both male and female, overwinter in the tunnels they have drilled into wood. With bumble bees, only the queen finds a nest to sleep until the spring, when she restarts her colony. But honey bees are unique in that they stay active all winter, meaning their colonies can survive for years.
When the temperature outside drops below 57 degrees, they do something called a “winter cluster” where the colony groups itself around the queen bee and shake in order to generate heat in the hive. The bees keep their wings still while vibrating their flight muscles, which warms them up. The colder it gets, the tighter the cluster.
Throughout the winter, the bees move around to distribute the warmth. When bees on the outside of the cluster find themselves in need of a reprieve, they push themselves into the middle of the group, giving a new group a turn to work as the insulators. The middle of the hive can get pretty toasty—the temperature can hike up towards 93 degrees!
The honey bee adapts in another way to deal with the weather: their lifespan is extended as well. In the summer, a worker bee’s average lifespan is 4-6 weeks, but in the winter, that time expands to up to 4-6 months, in order for the bees to live through the winter and to keep the queen bee alive.
If reading about the fascinating behavior of bees inspired you to learn more, stop by the library to check out some resources! To expand your knowledge on bees, try the book “A Short History of the Honey Bee: Humans, Flowers, and Bees in the Eternal Chase for Honey.” The documentary “The Vanishing of the Bees” talks about the decrease in honey bee populations across the world. If we’ve inspired you to start your own beehive, the book “Save the Bees with Natural Backyard Hives” shows you an easy way to keep healthy bees. Cecilton Branch Library will host the Cecil County Master Gardeners for an “Introduction to Beekeeping” on Tuesday, February 2 at 6:30pm.
Will you join us?