Do Bees Hibernate?

do-bees-hibernate
Honey bees hibernating inside the hive

Hibernating is most often associated with the idea of animals sleeping out the winter to conserve energy and to withstand the winter months when it’s more difficult to forage for food. Some species of bees, on the other hand, not only do not hibernate during the winter months but are arguably either just as or even busier than during the pollen and nectar-gathering months. Their efforts are, however, wholly directed to the survival of the hive and the colony.

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    Do Bees Hibernate or Migrate?

    Generally speaking, the many different species of bees do not migrate or move to warmer climates during the winter months. In the truest sense of the word, bees don’t even hibernate – they adapt their behaviour to the colder temperatures. Instead, most have their survival processes that involve either a type of hibernation or ensuring the development of their species’ next generation.

    How Long Do Bees Hibernate?

    Most species of bees will enter a form of hibernation from either the first onset of colder temperatures or the very beginning of winter through the beginning of spring and warmer temperatures. This ‘dormant’ period typically lasts several months.

    Which Species of Bees Hibernate?

    Overall, most species of bees employ a form of hibernation for the winter. It is by and large only a colony’s queen that survives the colder months, from which she surfaces early in the spring to lay the foundation for a new colony.

    Carpenter Bees, which are known for their troublesome burrowing into the wood, have a rather simple winter process. Once the end of the summer is in sight and cooler temperatures begin, a female and a male Carpenter Bee mate, lay their eggs in a warm, dry wooden hole that they’ve burrowed, and then proceed to move about collecting food that their offspring will consume in the spring. 

    Once they’ve left the food behind, they fly away and die off in a relatively short period. The eggs (prepupae) remain ensconced in the wood until the warmth of spring, at which time they will eat the food, develop into adult Carpenter Bees, and then the life cycle will begin again. In this way, a Carpenter Bee’s life is dedicated to providing for the survival of its species.

    Bumblebee colonies die off as the colder temperatures of winter settle in, and the queen is the lone survivor. This prospective queen will have mated with a male Bumble Bee during the fall and eventually becomes quite large, consuming an enormous amount of nectar and pollen to prepare for a dormant or ‘hibernating’ stage in the winter, which takes place settled into a soft, dry wooden nest. 

    In the spring, the queen emerges and goes about locating what will be the perfect nesting site for the eggs that she is about to lay.

    Different types of native solitary bees also have their own slightly different methods of preparing for and sustaining themselves throughout the winter. For Mining Bees, Sweat Bees, and Polyester Bees, it is typical for the queen to lay eggs in underground nests, while the queens of Leafcutting and Mason Bees tend to lay eggs in warm, secluded, above-ground chambers.

    These young bees either hatch before the winter as latent adults that will ‘hibernate’ and emerge in the spring or will spend the cold months as developing prepupae. Once the spring comes, the female young will scatter and establish their nests and lay the eggs for the next generation.

    Which-Species-of-Bees-Hibernate
    Adult carpenter bees lay their eggs in a dry wooden hole, collect food for the offspring, then fly away to die off before the winter comes

    Do All Bees That Hibernate Survive the Winter?

    In most species of bees, it is usually only the hive’s queen that will survive the winter. She will typically stop laying new eggs shortly before the onset of the winter solstice and will begin to do so again once the warmer temperatures of the first spring approach.

    The larvae that she has laid leading up to the winter are kept warm and tended to by the worker bees at the centre of the cluster, as is the queen. These larvae will be the young that hatch in the spring for which the queen will care and feed by venturing out in search of fresh pollen and nectar.

    Do Bees Store Honey for the Winter?

    The ever-industrious Honeybee has typically built up a store of roughly between 25-60 pounds of honey for the colder months. The accrued stores of honey, beebread and royal jelly sustain the colony during the winter months. The cluster typically forms just underneath the food stores and moves upwards as the levels diminish. 

    If food stores get to the point of becoming perilously short, the worker bees will push what has become the now ineffectual drones out of the hive to ensure the colony’s survival. The drones generally serve little purpose during the winter and would consume too much of the precious food stores. If the colony exhausts its store of honey, it will freeze to death before the end of the winter.

    How Do Bees Avoid Freezing in Cold Temperatures?

    Bees direct their combined efforts to maintain adequate heat within the hive. Once the outside temperature drops to approximately 57 degrees (F), the bees begin to form the cluster in the centre of the hive that will more or less define their existence for the next several months. 

    With heads pointed in and all bees compressed together, every bee begins to ‘vibrate’ and ‘shiver’ by using their flight muscles and their wings to build heat within the colony. The outer shell of the cluster is about three inches thick and usually around 40 degrees, but at the centre, the temperature can reach 93 degrees. It is at the centre where there is often some room for movement, as the worker bees tend to the queen and the young.

    How-Do-Bees-Avoid-Freezing-in-Cold-Temperatures
    Bees avoid feezing temperature by compressing together and vibrating in order to create heat

    Will Bees Still Hibernate Even if They’re in Warmer Climates?

    Bees do not necessarily adjust their ‘winter behaviour’ based on a seasonal cycle. The bees that exist in the warmer regions of the world will remain active during the winter months. There is, however, a problem with this. The bees’ life cycle may not be dependent on the seasonal calendar, but the life cycles of plants primarily are. 

    Consequently, there may be a shortage of plants that are steadily producing nectar and pollen. Such a shortage would put a strain on the colony’s food stores, as there would be less complete nutrition but the same amount of bees consuming it. The bees may be, therefore, in a similar situation to those in colder climates anyway, albeit significantly less severe.

    The need for clustering for heat would not be necessary, and worker bees would still be able to venture out and forage for whatever food they can find.

    On Which Continents and Countries Do Bees Mainly Hibernate?

    The 20,000 different species of bees are found all over the world in different dwellings, but not all can be found on the same continents. In the UK, for example, there are over 250 species of bees, including 24 species of Bumble Bee. 

    The only continent on which bees are not found is Antarctica and the reason is obvious. Temperatures can fall to as low as minus-76 degrees Fahrenheit, a condition at which few, if any, living things can survive. Further, even if bees could adapt their behaviour to those elements, there are certainly no flowering plants there on which they can feed.

    Do Bees Die in the Winter if They Don’t Hibernate?

    Generally speaking, bees do not die during the colder months. The vast majority of them have their own methods of surviving this time in a process called ‘overwintering.’ There are some species of bees. However, that does perish as winter approaches, namely the Bumblebee. Once female Bumblebees and Male Bumblebees have mated in the late summer or early fall, only the new queen settles in and survives the winter in a hibernation-type stage. The rest of the colony typically dies off.

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