How Honeybees Keep Warm in the Winter

December 4, 2019

How Honeybees Keep Warm in the Winter

Honeybees are an insect that most people are familiar with. They are associated with making honey,
obviously, and are usually the variety of bees that you would see on a group tour. Most people know
that without honeybees we would not have honey, the delicious addition to many of our favorite foods.
But what happens to honeybees in the winter?

Though most people probably don’t even think about it, those that do might presume that beekeepers
have special houses or bring them indoors somewhere. Neither of these presumptions is correct. Even
bees that are “kept” by beekeepers handle the winter instinctively. They are an amazing flying insect
and you should take a peek at how they winter.

Bee Colonies

Bees live in colonies and there are several types of bees in each colony. Each type has its own job. The
most important bee is the queen. Without the queen, there would be no colony as her sole purpose is to
lay eggs to produce more bees. The other two types are drones and workers. Drones are males. Their
only job is to find a queen to reproduce with. The worker bees are female, and they literally do all the
rest of the work, from foraging for nectar with which to make honey, to tending to the hive.

In late summer, the queen starts producing “winter” bees. These bees have a 4 to 6-month life span,
unlike the summer bees who live only 4 to 6 weeks. The winter bees are also different physiologically
from the summer bees. When the summer bees die, the winter bees replace them. Sorry to say,
throughout the winter, only the females survive. The drones are no longer needed as they would eat too

How Do They Prepare?

Aside from spending the summer making enough honey to feed the colony itself, they are also busy
making excess food to take them through the winter. They don’t sleep for months like bears; they are
awake, eating, and trying to stay warm. To survive, they must have a healthy and productive queen and
a large and healthy group of winter bees.

How Do They Survive?

When the temperature drops into the ’60s, the bees begin to cluster together. In this way they keep
themselves and most importantly, their queen, warm. When the outside temperatures begin to drop
into the 20s, the bees on the inside of the cluster start beating their wings. This raises the temperature
and keeps both themselves and the queen, warm. The bees on the outside of the cluster act as
insulation. As the temperature of the hive heats up, the outer layer of bees in the cluster prevents the
warmth from leaving the hive.

As the outer layer of bees gets cold, they trade places with the inner layer and the whole process begins
again. The temperature at the inside of the cluster can get as high as 81 degrees while the temperature
at the outside of the cluster is about 48 degrees. They also have “heater” bees. These bees vibrate their
abdomens to keep adjacent empty cells warm. This is necessary because as they eat the food stores
where they are located, they eventually must move to another cell. The “heater” bees prevent them
from having to begin the entire process again by keeping the cells warm when they are empty.