The temperature around the region is finally starting to drop and become more fall-like. I joke with my family back in Kentucky that we only have two seasons here; summer and diet summer. Jokes aside, this weather is some of my personal favorite. We can finally stand outside for more than 2 minutes without the gnats and mosquitoes attacking us. This time of year is also special for our honey bees. Some of the things they do and experience are pretty cool and I thought you may think so too.
First, I think it will be important to clear up a few myths I have heard about honey bees. One that I hear about is “bees hibernate in the winter”. Bees are very much awake and thriving in the winter. Another is that bees won’t leave their hive when its cold. I promise if you mess with a hive enough, the bees will get you, regardless of temperature. Lastly, is that all the bees live peacefully together all year. Unfortunately, in the winter male bees are pushed from the hive and essentially starved to death. They don’t really do much other than eat and take up space, so the ladies kick them to the curb to save resources. Cold temperatures must turn their hearts cold too.
When the temperatures get between 50-55 degrees, it signals to the bees that winter will soon be arriving. The first instinct for bees is to start a cluster. The bees will make a basketball sized cluster in the center of the hive, with the queen in the middle. The bees will fan their wings to keep the temperature approximately 90 degrees. As the bees get tired, they rotate positions from inside to outside the cluster. They will maintain this cluster all throughout winter, eating their honey as the cluster moves vertically up the hive. For this reason, it is very important for a bee hive to have ample honey saved up, about 70 pounds. This number varies based on region and how long winter last in your area.
Now some of you may be asking yourself “Cody, didn’t you tell me bees only live 6 weeks? How do they make it to spring?”. Yes, I did say that and for the rest of the year that is true. “Winter bees” are physiologically different than their spring and summer counterparts. They have more fat cells in their bodies to increase their life span to make it to spring. This adaptation is what keeps a hive thriving through the winter and prepares the first batch of brood the following year.
Bees are one of my passions and they never cease to amaze me. The complexity of their lives and how they function are unique in nature. If you too have a passion for bees, consider joining our bee club. Call or come see me at the extension office with any bee questions. Be safe out there.