Ask yourself: have you ever seen a bee in the winter? The answer is probably no. But where do they go all those months?
Like bears, bees burrow away during the cold. But what they do in their hives to keep warm is about as far away from sleep as you can imagine. In truth, what bees do to survive the winter is where they truly earn the adage, “busy as a bee.”
The Drones Die
It would not be entirely accurate to say that every bee survives the winter. The only purpose of the male drone bee is to mate with the queen. They provide no other service and are, therefore, a drain on resources when it comes time to ration and conserve. Consequently, as it gets colder, drone bees are booted from the colony so that the workers can survive and protect the queen.
When temperatures drop to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the worker bees all return to the hive and form a winter cluster to keep warm. With the queen at the center, the most important thing bees do to survive the winter isto crowdaround each other and combine their body heat to stay warm for the next three months.
The temperatures in these clusters can rise to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For sustenance, the bees will crawl and climb in formation to reach their honey reserves. A successful winter will depend on if the hive was able to produce enough honey during the pollinating months. If the temperatures outside rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, bees will momentarily leave the hive to relieve themselves.
Some Hives Do Not Make It
In the best-case scenario, the bees would have stored enough honey and had enough warm bodies to survive the winter. However, that is not always the case. Beekeepers who inspect their boxes in early spring often find hives coated with dead bees. Sometimes, this is because the bees did not save up enough honey to survive the winter months. In other instances, it is because they were unable to keep themselves warm. Whatever the case, a colony’s survival, like so many other things in nature, is not guaranteed.