Bees in Winter

 

Winter is a pretty quiet time for beekeepers. Here at Georgia Tech we've been crossing our fingers and waiting for spring. But what are the bees doing? GTUHBP student assistant, Miranda Gore, has written the following short piece about what bees do in winter.

Honeybees like to keep their hive at about 94oF, regardless of the temperature outside. If it’s too hot, they can use their wings to create currents that cool down the hive. But what if it’s too cold? With the temperature dipping down into the single digits this winter, the bees are working extra hard to maintain their normal hive temperature. In the winter, thousands of worker honeybees (no drones!) cluster together around their queen and vibrate to generate heat. The center of the cluster is the warmest, maintaining their preferred temperature of 94oF. The bees do not attempt to warm the entire hive though – they concentrate their efforts into a tight ball in the middle, avoiding the walls where the most heat is lost.

On typical winter days, the bees do not leave their hive because it is too cold. That means that they aren’t able to go out and forage for pollen or honey to eat. Instead, the bees are eating their honey stores that they saved all year. They can eat up to 25 lbs of honey per month in the winter! Our hives at Georgia Tech went into the winter with some honey stores, but since they are relatively new colonies, they are also being supplemented with sugar water and fondant to tide them over until the spring. We can’t do normal hive inspections at this time, due to the temperature, but we are pretty sure that the bees are still doing well since they are eating what we give them. On warm winter days, when the temperature reaches about 45-50oF, look out for the bees, who may be out foraging or just spreading their wings after a long winter.