What Bees Do In Winter – Part 3: They Try to Stay Warm

Now that it’s getting into late January, most of us living in cooler climes like Canada spend our days bundled up at home, with the heat turned up. In a way, bees do that too.

In the fall, bees busily gather up all the pollen and nectar that they can, in an attempt to make enough honey to feed the entire bee colony over the long, harsh winter. That’s why it’s VERY important for us beekeepers NOT to take an over-excess of honey from the bees in the fall. To do so would jeopardize their survival. In fact, many beekeepers feed their bees in the fall, to try to ensure that the bees have enough honey stores to make it through the winter. Below is a picture of me getting ready to feed our bees. We use the gravity pail method...

Once the temperatures dip to around 5 - 10 degrees Celsius or cooler, the bees give up on foraging for nectar and pollen, and stay in the hive. As the temperatures cool off even more, they gather in the center of the hive and form what’s called (in beekeeping lingo) a “winter cluster”. The winter cluster looks something like the picture below, except it’s formed INSIDE the hive. The bees remain in this configuration for the whole winter long to stay warm, and who is at the center of the cluster? You guessed it… the queen!

In the winter, ALL the bees share the job of looking after the queen, meaning that they all do their parts to help keep her safe and warm. They surround the queen and form a cluster around her with their bodies. They then flutter their wings and shiver, and they do this the whole winter long! Needless to say, all this activity generates a lot of heat in the hive. It can get up to 35 degrees Celsius in there on a cold winter’s day. Also, all the bees in the cluster (except for the queen) constantly change position. That is, the bees on the outside of the cluster slowly make their way to the inside and vice versa, so that no one gets too cold. Incredible, right?!

You might be wondering at this point, “How do they eat their stored honey, if they’re constantly in one big cluster?” Well, the whole cluster moves en masse until they’re covering an area of the honeycomb that’s filled with honey. Then they help themselves!

Well, that's all for now folks. Girl Beekeeper signing off. But until next time, STAY WARM!! :)

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