If most bees can survive through winter, how about honey bees? Where do honey bees hibernate? Do they even hibernate at all?
Bees have ways to survive through the harshest time of the year.
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They stay in the hive
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Instead, they have their own ways of surviving through winter.
The first thing that helps them stay alive is their nest location. Honey bees position their nests in places where they can manage the cold and be protected from the elements. These places can be inside hollow trees, burrows, sheds, roofs, attics, shacks, garages, walls and wooden beams.
Honey bees also have their own system once winter starts to creep in. They settle in for the cold months during fall, when the flowers become a lot fewer. The entire colony stays inside their hive instead of looking for safer and warmer sites. They store as much honey as they can. And the queen conveniently stops laying eggs. That’s since taking care of new larvae would cost the colony too much time and food.
Speaking of food, the colony’s survival depends entirely on how much honey they’re keeping. And because staying warm needs energy and that energy needs fuel, they store just enough honey until spring comes. Otherwise, they would starve and freeze to death.
Another factor that helps bees live through the icy temperatures of winter is their tendency to push the drones out of the nest. These male bees whose only purpose is to fertilize budding queens will starve and eventually die. It’s a desperate a move, but the sacrifice is natural and necessary since the entire hive has to do what it can to secure provisions and to pass them to members that really count.
They bundle up
So how do bees keep themselves warm during the snow season? For humans, winter usually calls for thick jackets, boots, mittens and scarves. But bees have a different story. Since they obviously can’t wear clothes, they do the next best thing and bundle up together, forming what beekeepers call a “winter cluster” or a “honey bee huddle”.
According to ThoughtCo, the winter cluster is basically the workers gathering around the remaining larvae, pupae and the queen when the frigid temperatures come. They build the clump around the most important members of their colony to warm them up. They also specifically position the clump over their food storage so that queen and her brood can eat while they’re inside the huddle. Unfortunately, though, if they run out of honey within the clump, they starve. That’s even if the cluster itself is only inches away from additional honey storage.
The winter cluster works by having hundreds or even thousands of bees closely huddling together to insulate the center. When the temperature drops, the bees tighten their huddle. But when it becomes a bit too hot, the outer layers of the cluster move a little to let the air circulate. The bees on the outer layers can also push themselves inside the huddle when they get too cold, giving some of the bees in the inner layers a go at being on the outer layers. All the workers take turns in doing this.
The bees also vibrate their flight muscles to raise their individual body temperatures and generate more heat, regularly feeding on stored honey to fuel themselves for the long huddle in winter. It’s said that when these bugs do this, they can reach temperatures from 86–95°F, securing the survival of the queen and their brood.
So what’s the takeaway?
Well, if you’ve ever asked questions like “ Where do honey bees hibernate? ”, know what these insects don’t hibernate at all. Instead, they’re all hardwired to live with survival in mind. And that includes finding the right locations for nesting and cooperating with each other to survive the long frigid months of winter.