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Bee Temperature Tolerance (What Temperature Kills Bees?)

Do you know what temperature it takes to kill a bee? 

How about the average temperature of a hive? Or what happens when bees are exposed to cold temperatures or hot temperatures?

Bees are sensitive to temperature, but they have their own methods of regulating temperature, one of the most important ones being thermogenesis.

In this article, we’ll talk more about how bees respond to temperatures, what temperature kills bees, as well as how they avoid getting too cold.

Bee Temperature Tolerance

Bees have a strong temperature tolerance and can withstand temperatures as low as -2°C (28°F) and as high as 45°C (113°F). They can’t tolerate these temperatures for long though.

They’ve adapted to live in many different climates, both cold and hot.

This level of tolerance varies from species to species (for example, the Arctic Bumblebee can survive longer in colder temperatures).

Bee temperatures are most deadly during the bee’s brood-rearing season.  During this time of year, worker bees are actively caring for their brood. [1]

With exposed to lower temperatures, brood experience a higher mortality rate. That’s why it’s important for bees to keep their hive at the correct temperature of 94°F to 96°F (34.5°C to 35.5°C).

Bees’ flying capabilities are also sensitive to temperature. If the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), bees can’t fly. At this point, bees will enter a chill-induced coma. [2]

Bees working on a honeycombe in a beehive

At What Temperature Do Bees Stop Flying?

Studies suggest that bees will stop flying once the temperature goes below 50°F (10°C). Flight activities will go up at temperatures above 60.8°F (16°C). 

At low temperatures below 71.5°F (22°C), wind, rain, or lack of light can also cause reduced flight.

Flight activity is also reduced by heavy rain, heavy cloud cover, and high wind speeds.

Related: When are bees least active?

What Temperature Kills Bees?

Bees die when exposed to temperatures below 28,4°F to 21,2°F (-2°C to -6°C), or when it rises above 113°F (45°C). 

These are general numbers and do not apply to all species. The Yemeni honeybee has been observed to withstand temperatures up to 67°C. [4]

Arctic bumblebees (Bombus Polaris) can forage at temperatures near the freezing point. [5]

So, to bee-proof an area, beekeepers must bee-proof the temperature to bee temperature tolerance. It means that beekeepers should put fans in colonies and provide shade and cooling devices.

Beekeeper working collect honey.

Do Bees Die When It’s Too Hot?

Yes, bees die when it’s too hot. At temperatures above 113°F (45°C), most bees will start dying. 

Some bees, like the Yemini honeybee, can withstand temperatures up to 152.6°F (67°C).

But, if the temperature rises too high, bees will eventually die.

Bees’ natural temperature tolerance is getting challenged by climate change. With more and more parts of the world experiencing higher temperatures, bees are having a more difficult time. [6]

While this is true, it does not mean that all bees will die when the temperature rises above a certain threshold.

Bees, like other animals, have different preferences in temperature levels depending on the species. Some bees can also adapt to changes in temperature.

bee attacks

What Temperature Is Too Hot for Bees?

When temperatures rise above 113°F (45°C), it’s too hot for most bees.

The ideal temperature for a beehive is much lower at 95°F (35°C). If the temperature rises by just a few degrees, the brood will start to die.

How Do Bees Survive Hot Weather?

When the temperature gets too hot for bees, it triggers a natural humoral immune response called heat shock. During the heat shock response (HSR), bees produce heat shock proteins that protect their cells from thermal-induced stress.

If they’re exposed to the heat for too long, they will eventually die.

Another strategy bees use to regulate their temperature is by fanning their wings. The steady movement of the fan helps to cool the bee’s body [1]. They can also spew water at their hive-mates to help cool them down.

Bees also keep the temperature of the nest down with thermoregulation techniques.

bees flying in large numbers

This includes techniques such as:

  • Ventilation and cooling (fanning with their wings)
  • Heatshield (using their bodies to absorb by pressing against the heated surface)
  • Evaporative (swamp) cooler (spew water at the hive)

Jarimi, H., Tapia-Brito, E. and Riffat, S., 2020. A Review on Thermoregulation Techniques in Honey Bees’ (Apis Mellifera) Beehive Microclimate and Its Similarities to the Heating and Cooling Management in Buildings. Future Cities and Environment, 6(1), p.7. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/fce.81

Do Bees Die When It’s Too Cold?

Yes, bees die when it’s too cold. For most bees, they will die at temperatures below 28,4°F (-2°C), but some bees (like the arctic bumblebee) can withstand temperature as low as 14°F (-10°C).

The hive’s temperature also needs to remain at or above a certain threshold (95°F or 35°C).

They can achieve this by using the following techniques:

  • Air sealing (sealing holes in the hive)
  • Heat insulation and endothermic heating (clustering to keep warm)

While clustering in the nest, bees can survive outside temperatures down to -22°F (-30°C).

swarming bees

What Temperature Is Too Cold for Bees?

When the temperature drops below 28°F (-2°C), bees will begin to die outside, though they will enter a chill-induced coma at temperatures between 32°F to 50°F (0°C to 10°C).

How Do Bees Survive Cold Weather?

Bees survive cold weather by clustering around the queen. This cluster works as insulation, while the inner bees will perform thermogenesis by shivering.

In other words, the bees vibrate their flight muscles to create heat. The cluster is insulated by the bees on the outside, while the inner bees heat up the big cluster.

This large cluster helps to conserve heat while bees are dormant through the winter months.

By doing this, bees can survive in their nest, even though temperatures drop below -4°F (-20°C).

swarming worker bees around queen bee

Where Do Bees Go In the Winter?

Honeybees gather inside the hive and cluster together to provide each other warmth. They will stay in their nest, until the temperatures rise again, where they can then go out to forage.

Bumblebees similarly stay in a shelter, though they don’t have a hive. They will typically find a small hole in the ground, or a den, where they’ll hibernate.

Related: Where do bees go in the winter?

What Temperatures Do Bees Prefer?

Bees are generally comfortable when the temperature is between 57-100°F (14°C and 40°C). When the temperature is around this level, they will fly out to forage.

Related: When do bees come out?

What Temperature Is the Beehive?

The temperature of the beehive will typically be around 94-96°F (34-36°C). The climate inside the beehive is usually warmer than that of the environment surrounding it.

The temperature of the beehive is important for the brood to hatch and grow successfully. 

If the temperature drops too low, the brood will die (which is why no eggs are laid in the winter months), and the same goes for temperatures that are too high.

dead swarm of worker bees

Global Warming and Its Effect on Bees

Global warming and its effect on bees is a very controversial topic and has been the focus of many articles. It is also an issue that needs to be resolved to maintain optimal crop production to feed our ever-increasing population.

Many crops are pollinated by honeybees. Around one in three bites can be contributed directly to bees, increasing the value of the total food production in the U.S. alone by 15 billion dollars. [7]

If bee populations decrease, it could mean bad news for our food supply.

Global warming affects bees by altering their native habitats. As temperatures rise, the population of bees decreases, as flowers native reproduce less.

Conclusion

Bees can tolerate temperature between 28°F to 113°F (-2°C to 45°C), though this varies depending on the species. If the temperature goes either higher or lowers, they will die.

Similarly, the beehive has to stay within a certain range of temperatures, for the brood to survive. The temperature of the hive generally stays between 94-96°F (34.5-35.5°C).

When temperatures get too hot or too cold, bees have several thermoregulating techniques they use to get more comfortable, clustering up in cold weather, and fanning in hot weather.

FAQs

Do Bees Get Hot?

Yes, bees do get hot. When this happens, they can either fan with their wings, or have hive-mates spew mater at them. They also have a natural response called “Heat Shock Response”, where their bodies produce heat shock proteins to help reduce heat-induced damage on their cells.

Do Bees Get Cold?

Yes, bees do get cold. In weather below 50°F (10°C), flying activity starts to drop, and as the temperature closes in on the freezing point, bees experience chill-coma, a paralysis state triggered by the cold.

If the temperature rises again, they can survive, as they’re heated up, but if the temperature drops just a few more degrees, bees are killed by the cold.

At what temperature are bees most active?

Bees are most active at temperatures between 57-100°F (14°C and 40°C). Bees are most active during the day, from morning to early evening (from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.). This is when temperatures are usually closest to bees’ preferred level.

Related: When are bees most active?

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.