Monday, February 8, 2016

How Honeybees Survive Winter by Audrey Stokes

Photo courtesy thetruthwins.com
When winter rolls around, bears hibernate and birds fly south, but what about the bees? Like every other creature on earth, bees have their own unique ways of coping with cold temperatures during the winter season. One way bees prepare for the winter is by gathering a winter reserve of honey.

Photo courtesy Judy Sedbrook
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) head to the hive when temperatures drop into the 50s. As the weather becomes cool, the honey bees gather in a central area of the hive and form a “winter cluster”.

Bees have one main job in the winter - to take care of the queen bee. This means they must keep her safe and warm. In order to do so, worker bees surround the queen and form a cluster with their bodies. The worker bees then flutter their wings and shiver. This constant motion and continuous use of energy is how the bees keep the inside of the hive warm.

Though the queen is always at the center of the cluster, worker bees rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster, so no individual worker bee gets too cold. The temperature of the cluster ranges from 46 degrees at the exterior to 80 degrees at the interior. The colder the weather is outside, the more compact the cluster becomes.
Photo courtesy hsph.harvard.edu
In order to produce body heat and stay alive, honeybees must rely on honey for energy. Some studies have found that hives of honey bees will consume up to 30 pounds of stored honey over the course of a single winter. On warmer days, bees will leave the cluster briefly in order to eliminate body waste outside the hive. Look for honey bees on warm winter days - if you see one, you’ll know what she is up to!
Photo courtesy Judy Sedbrook
Fun facts about honey bees:
  • Honey bees are the only insect that produce food eaten by humans.
  • Worker honey bees are female.
  • The “drones” are male bees. They do no work and are stingless. Their only job is to mate with the queen.
Photo courtesy healthywithhoney.com
  • The workers will allow the drones to starve to death when the egg laying season finishes - they would eat too much of the stored honey if allowed to live over the winter.
  • The average worker bee produces only 1/12 teaspoon of honey over her lifetime.
  • A worker bee lives about 6 weeks. The queen bee can live to be 5 years old.
  • Honey never spoils.
  • To make one pound of honey, bees must visit 2 million flowers.
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