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Where do Bees go in Winter?

Published on 31st March 2019

Now that spring has arrived and bees start to emerge, you might be wondering where they've been over the colder months. Our Bee expert, Paula, explains...

During the winter months, honey bees cluster tightly together around their wax comb. Not a full hibernation, but a calm stillness with minimal activity to preserve the colony’s heat and food reserves. This stillness is called ‘torpor’.

The colony strives to maintain its core temperature at 35degrees throughout the year. When the outside temperature drops below 10 degrees, the queen stops laying eggs, and all ‘normal’ hive activity is suspended.

By clustering tightly together, they conserve their heat, keeping the queen secure in the centre. The remaining bees, mainly workers (female) and a perhaps a handful of drones (male bees) rotate around the cluster. The outer bees vibrate gently to keep the temperature stable.

Workers around a queen

The cluster slowly moves around the honey stores, feeding on the various kinds of honey stored throughout the Spring and Summer months. Bees have been found to prefer a mixed diet rather than a single source of either one plant or an artificial food of sugar syrup or fondant.

If the bees become chilled, either from a hive opening by storms or curious beekeepers, they will perish. However, there is a saying that bees are only dead when they are ‘warm and dead’, as bees can take a while to emerge from torpor when the warm weather comes. Many a beekeeper has removed a box of bees from an apiary, fearing them dead, only to find that once they have warmed up, they start flying!

Patience is, therefore, the key for beekeepers during this time of the year.

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Paula Carnell
Castle Cary BA7 7JW, UK
Author of ‘Artist to Bees’. Bee guardian. Experimenting with Golden, Freedom, WBC & Warre hives. Honey taster. Garden Day ambassador

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