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Where Do Bees Go In the Winter? (Clustering & Hibernation)

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Ever wonder where bees go when it’s freezing? 

It might seem like they disappear, and that is somewhat true, depending on how you define “disappear”.

Most bees will hide out in their nest, as the cold temperatures don’t provide good foraging conditions.

In this article, we’ll talk about how bees hide out during the winter if they hibernate, and other bee behavior related to the winter months.

Where Do Bees Go In the Winter?

Bees go inside their hive during the winter. Depending on their species, they may still be active though. Honeybees are still awake, though they stay completely still. Bumblebees on the other hand hibernate.

Hibernation is when an animal falls asleep for extended periods to survive harsh conditions. Some animals hibernate for the winter, where they also conserve energy by slowing their body metabolism.

Bees have to hide out during the winter months, as cold temperatures are difficult to fly in. 

Foraging conditions are also bad, as flowers don’t produce nectar at this time of year.

bee apiary at winter

Do Bees Hibernate?

Most bees don’t hibernate, but they do go dormant, which is an inactive state, where they’re still awake.

Now, this doesn’t apply to all bees. As briefly mentioned, bumblebees do in fact hibernate. The way bumblebees get through the winter months is very different from honeybees.

Bumblebee queens are the only ones alive during the winter, which means they hibernate alone. With a full stomach of food, they can survive up to nine months.

Related: List of Animals That Hibernate

bumblebees making honey in the hive

Do Honeybees Hibernate?

Honeybees do not hibernate. While they don’t hibernate, they’re still awake. They go dormant, slowing down activity levels to a point where they only do things necessary to survive.

The honeybees will keep themselves warm enough during the wintertime to survive. They do this by clustering up.

All of the workers will create a big cluster of bees around the queen. They do this for two reasons:

  1. They keep each other and the queen warm.
  2. They cluster around the queen to keep her protected and safe.

When clustered up, they also vibrate to create heat. Honeybees can vibrate their muscles, creating heat energy from movement energy.

ball of bees

Where Do Bumblebees Go in Winter?

Bumblebees die in the fall, never making it to winter. Except for the queen. She’ll hibernate in a den or a hole in the ground. Here, they’ll stay until spring comes around.

Bumblebee workers die out in the fall when it gets too cold. The old bumblebee queen will lay eggs for the new virgin queen, who’ll hatch before winter.

Since bumblebee queens only live for one year, it’s important that she produces more virgin queens before she dies.

When the virgin queens are ready to take flight, they will forage for food to store in their bodies. They use this food to survive over the winter months, where they’ll be sleeping the entire time.

Before winter arrives, the old queen will die, only to live on in the new virgin queens.

When spring comes around, bumblebees have to mate and find a nesting spot. She’ll then lay eggs for the first batch of workers, who’ll take over foraging.

When fall then arrives, they start over. The queen will reproduce more virgin queens, and all of the bumblebee workers from the colony will perish.

worker bumblebees

Do Bumblebees Hibernate?

Yes, bumblebee queens hibernate, but workers do not. Bumblebee colonies only live for half a year, from spring to fall. In the fall, workers will die, while new virgin queens will go off to hibernate. Queens are expected to spend half of their life hibernating.

Can Bumblebees Remain Active During Winter?

Most bumblebee colonies die in the fall, while the queen remains inactive while hibernating.

However, researchers found that bumblebees cannot remain active, unless certain criteria are met. There has to be a food source nearby, and temperatures have to be high enough for them to fly.

A study of bumblebees was done, to determine whether they’re active during the winter. This showed that if food sources are plentiful, they can indeed be active.

Where Do Honey Bees Go in Winter?

Honeybees stay in the hive to stay warm during the winter. Once the temperature goes below 50 °F (10 °C), it’s too cold for honeybees to use their energy foraging. Honeybees can die if they are exposed to temperatures lower than 50 °F for too long.

When the weather is too cold, and most of their food has been placed in stores, honeybees stay in their hive and cluster tightly. 

These tight clusters keep the queen bee and worker bees together, as well as keep them warm. The optimal temperature for the hive is around 95°F (35 °C), but the average is about 81°F (27°C). [2]

Related: When do bees go away?

swarming bees

Honeybees in Warmer Climates

In warm climates, honeybees can remain active all year. This allows for increased production of honey compared to honeybees in colder climates, where they have a period of time when there is no production.

While warmer climates mean that honeybees can be more productive throughout the whole year, it also means that pathogens and parasites are a greater risk. 

Honeybees are under extreme stress in these climates because of the diseases, parasites, and pathogens they encounter.

Honeybees that live in warm climates encounter more significant health risks throughout the year due to the increased pathogen and parasite rates and disease outbreaks. 

Climate change is impacting honeybee populations by intensifying these challenges.

swarm of bees on apiary

Honeybees in Colder Climates

Honeybees in colder climates will cluster around the queen, keeping her warm. 

The bees will move into a tight formation inside the hive in colder climates to survive the colder temperatures. These clusters can sometimes include thousands of individual honeybees. 

They will then come out for bee season in springtime.

Honeybees can regulate the temperature of the cluster and nest by vibrating, creating heat from movement.

Where Do Solitary Bees Go in Winter?

Solitary bees, such as the mining bee or the bumblebee queen, will either hibernate or go into a state of torpor (decreased activity levels).

Signs of bees that go into a state of torpor are reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. They conserve energy to survive for an extended period of time without eating.

As discussed earlier, bumblebee queens go into hibernation while living alone during the winter months. Other bees also follow this pattern.

Solitary bees (bees that live alone and don’t make hives like honeybees) help plants grow and reproduce by pollinating flowers. They’re very important to our ecosystem.

queen bee alone

How Bees Stay Warm in the Winter

Honeybees use thermoregulation to stay warm during the winter. They use thermoregulation all year round to keep the hive at an optimal 95°F (35°C). They use heating or cooling techniques to achieve this. [3]

To heat up during the winter, bees will first create a cluster. The cluster will be structured with bees for insulation on the outside, and heat-regulating bees near the center, with the queen in the center.

The inner bees will use a technique called “shivering” thermogenesis, vibrating their flight muscles to create heat [4].

Related: Bee temperature tolerance

The temperature of a Cluster of Bees

The optimal temperature for a beehive is 95°F (35°C). [5]

Conclusion

Bees go into their nest, den, or other shelters during the winter. They do this to avoid the harsh temperatures and conditions in the winter months. Honeybees go dormant, while other bees are seen hibernating.

If the bees live in a warmer climate, they can be active all year round. This is seen in places where the temperature never drops below 50 °F (10 °C).

In these regions, honeybees and other bees alike can forage all year round, increasing their production of honey. There are downsides to this, such as increased exposure to pathogens and parasites.

When honeybees are waiting out the winter, they stay in clusters, keeping each other warm.

FAQs

Do Bees Stay Alive in the Winter?

Honeybees stay alive during the winter by staying in their hives and surviving off of stored food. On the other hand, bumblebee workers die in the fall, not even making it to the winter months.

Where Do Bees Sleep in the Winter?

Honeybees will stay in their nest in the winter, while other bees (bumblebees and other solitary bees), will find a den or small holes in the ground to wait out the winter.

When are bees least active?

Bees are least active during the winter months. As stated in the article, bees like to spend the winter months in their nest, just like they do at night.

Related: When are bees least 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.

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