What happens to bees in the winter? Do they hibernate or migrate? This is the core of our discussion today.
Winter is usually the time of year where a wide range of insects and animals take a break. This is also known as hibernation. Such insects include those considered beneficial and the not-so-beneficial ones.
As key pollinators, bees are considered highly beneficial.
Another reason for their importance is due to the food (honey) produced.
Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?
So, where do these useful insects go during winter? Do bees hibernate too? This is an important question we’ll be discussing. Also, we’ll seek to find out the reasons for hibernation.
Is it due to the harshness of weather conditions? The behavior of different bee species will be covered as well.
Bumblebee, Honey Bee, and Solitary Bee Hibernation Behaviors
The term “bees” is clearly a broad name that captures all bee species and there are lots of them.
A few of these include the buff-tailed bumblebee, western honey bee, orchard mason bee, Apis cerana, common eastern bumblebee, and the European wool carder bee.
Other bee species include Bombus pascuorum, deformed wing virus, eastern carpenter bees, and the early bumblebee among several others.
However, we’re more concerned about the three species mentioned above to provide you with an idea of what goes on.
There are lots of bee species we won’t be able to cover individually. However, the behavior of these three species gives you an idea of their hibernation patterns if they do hibernate at all.
Additionally, their wintering behavior differs from one species to the next
Do Bees Hibernate in Winter?
It depends on the bee species in question.
In other words, certain bee species do hibernate while others don’t. Of the three bee species mentioned, only bumblebees and solitary bees do hibernate.
Honey bees don’t.
To better understand, let’s discuss each of their wintering behaviors.
Before we proceed…
It’s necessary to first explain bee overwintering behavior.
As mentioned earlier, bees have different ways or methods of overwintering.
First off, overwintering in the waiting-out period during winter. Here, they keep themselves safe from the harsh weather conditions.
Bumblebees Overwintering Behavior
We’ve earlier stated that bumblebees do hibernate in winter. While this is a partial confirmation of the question asked above, we’ll need to know how such hibernation happens.
Bumblebee hibernation sites vary.
This bee species will hibernate in northwest-facing positions or abandoned rodent holes. Also, bumblebees can be found hibernating in a pile of logs, shades, soft plant potting compost, as well as in slopes.
Now, there are non-active bumblebees that are in different stages of development as well as active or adult bees.
For non-active bumblebees, these could be in their prepupa or may be fully developed adult that hasn’t emerged yet. Such would remain until temperatures rise which triggers their emergence.
In the case of active or adult bumblebees, their hibernation behavior is quite different. These mostly leave their nests as winter approaches to find favorable hibernation locations such as those mentioned above.
Honey Bees Overwintering Behavior
For honeybees, there’s no hibernation at all. Whether in the wild or when kept in hives, honeybees tend to have an interesting way to remain active all winter.
As social creatures, honey bees live in colonies which underlie the reason for their being active all through winter.
How so? Their large population enables them to get warmth when clustered together. Because little is known about bee overwintering behavior in the wild, we’re more focused on what goes on in their hives.
When honeybees cluster together, they cover their queen in the center. Now, the continued movement of their bodies through shivering and wing flapping movements generates heat that sustains them.
You might be curious about what happens to honeybees at the fringes. There’s a continuous inward movement of outer honeybees towards the center.
Such movement also helps them feed on stored honey.
It’s important to note that this cluster isn’t static in terms of its positioning. Rather, the honeybee cluster moves around the hive to feed on stored honey.
Without stored honey, honeybees are unable to survive through winter.
Solitary Bees Overwintering Behavior
As the name implies, solitary bees aren’t social. When the winter season kicks in, it meets these solitary bees at different stages of development.
Whether at their pupae or adult stages, these bees will have to hibernate.
Some solitary bees will hibernate in hollow plant stems while others will hibernate underground. They only emerge when winter sets in.
This gives a heads-up to gardeners regarding methods of tidying their garden in preparation for winter.
You can avoid destroying solitary bees getting set for the winter season by simply not burning plant stems.
Solitary bees will only emerge in spring when weather conditions get better.
Reasons For Bee Hibernation
So far, we’ve been talking about the wintering behavior of different bee species.
However, what we’ve not talked about is why they hibernate. One of the ready explanations for such behavior is the harsh weather conditions in winter.
Bees are won’t thrive during such times.
Asides from the harsh weather conditions, there’s another important reason why bees will hibernate. Hibernation has a lot to do with the absence of flowers.
When there are no flowers to pollinate, bees will seek out ways to keep alive.
The social nature of honey bees enables them to brave the winter season. However, one thing is needed for them to see out the winter season; food. Stored honey is crucial to their survival.
As such if you have a beehive, you might want to allow a sufficient supply of honey that will last them the winter.
All you have to do is not harvest more honey than necessary. Here, proper timing is of the essence. This helps prevent honey bees from freezing to death.
Is There No Pollination in Winter At All?
Most of the time, people have the wrong idea that zero pollination occurs during winter due to the absence of key pollinators like bees. Such assertion is also driven by the fact that flowers are mostly absent.
However, that isn’t entirely true.
There are actually flowers (such as the winter jasmine) that bud in winter. Yes! All important pollinators like bees will long be hibernated.
However, such flowers bud because when there’s a stretch of warmer days during winter, some beetles and flies can actually get some pollination work done.
Apart from honey bees, most bee species hibernate in winter.
For those that don’t (such as honey bees), they’ll need to cluster together throughout the season to keep warm.