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Learn What Bees Do in the Winter

When winter approaches, birds fly south, and bears begin to hibernate, but what happens to all the bees? Bees have their own way of dealing with cold winter temperatures and while they don't actually hibernate, you will not see them in the winter. One of the ways that bees begin preparing for the winter is by gathering a reserve of honey to get through the season.

Generally, when temperatures start to drop into the 50s, bees will head to their hives. As the temperature continues to drop, the bees will gather in a central area of the hive and form what is known as a winter cluster. Essentially the bees huddle together within the cluster all throughout the winter. During the winter, the only job of the worker bees is to care for and protect the queen, keeping her warm and safe.

In order to keep the queen safe, worker bees will gather around the queen to form the cluster using their bodies. They will then shiver and flutter their wings and the constant motion along with the continual use of energy is how bees are able to keep the hive warm in cold temperatures. The bees get their energy from honey which is why they gather a reserve to get through the winter.

While the queen bee is always in the middle of the cluster, the worker bees will rotate spots from the outside to the inside of the cluster so that no one bee winds up too cold. The temperature of the winter cluster can have a significant range with the exterior often hovering in the mid 40s while the interior is as high as 80 degrees. The cluster of bees will become more compact as the weather gets colder. Bees will occasionally need to eliminate body waste and on warmer days may exit the hive for a brief period to do so. They try not to stay out too long or venture too far as they can become too chilled to fly back to the hive.

As the bees need to consume enough honey to continue shivering and maintain the temperature of the hive, it has been found that an extraordinary amount of honey may be consumed over the course of a single winter. Studies have found that hives of honeybees can consume up to 30 pounds of honey throughout a single winter.

Beekeeping in the Winter

Winter is the toughest time of year for bees so beekeepers must prepare hives correctly for winter. Bees should have large enough stores of honey, young and strong queens, and proper examination for disease, among other factors.

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