Usually this time of year I get the typical question “What do honeybees do in the winter?” from people who found out that I’m a beekeeper. Most people assume they all die off. Honeybees in the winter do quite the opposite.
For those strong hives that were able to collect enough food and have managed avoid the destructive mites that have been terrorizing and threatening their very existence, here is a little about what happens in the cold winter months.
Honeybees cluster together.
Honeybees do not live very long in the spring and summer months, usually about 4 to 6 weeks. This is because they literally work themselves to death. However, the bees born in the later season closer to the winter months will typically live through the winter.
Everyone wonders how bees manage to stay warm in the winter and what it is that they do. Honeybees cluster together to stay warm, but most importantly they cluster themselves around the queen to keep her warm. During this time the queen will not lay any eggs.
This isn’t a loose cluster either, it is a very tight group of honeybees all working together for the same goal.
Usually the cluster will start at the bottom of the hive and, gradually, throughout the winter they work themselves to the top feeding off of the collected pollen and honey they worked so hard for during the spring and summer.
What is also fascinating is that honeybees will not “release” themselves inside the hive either. For the most part, honeybees work really hard to make sure their homes are clean and well maintained. I think of it in the same way that humans do to make sure their homes are clean as well.
Kicking out the drones and lowering the population.
Honeybees have figured out an exceptional way to survive in the winter. For starters, they kick out the drones. That’s right, all the workers kick out and evict all the males in the hive.
The workers, all the females in the hive, work the hardest throughout the spring and summer collecting food, making sure all the larvae are taken care of, they do all the cleaning and take care of the queen. This is all done on top of making honey.
The drones do not do much of anything else except occasionally one might get to mate with a queen. Naturally, it makes sense to kick all the left over surviving males out.
During the spring and summer the population in the hive is into the 100 thousands. To make sure there’s enough food to ensure the hive survives, in the winter the population is cut way down.
Make sure your bees are fat and happy before winter.
There isn’t much a beekeeper can do in the winter to their hives. If anything, you will want to leave them alone. Messing with a hive or trying to remove frames in the winter will cause the cluster to break apart and the hive will freeze to death.
However, one thing a beekeeper can do is ensure their bees are fat and happy before the cold hits.
This is done by monitoring their food reserves and making sure they have enough food in the fall to make it through the winter. But what do you feed them if there isn’t?
- Pollen patties: this is made by mixing sugar, water, vegetable oil and pollen substitute together to create an edibile food substance for the bees. Of course, it isn’t as good as the real deal, however, if your bees are low and you want to make sure they have enough food, it will work.
- Sugar water: In the spring, beekeepers will provide sugar water to those new hives in the ratio of 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water. However, in the fall you will want to provide 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water. When I first did this it looked like a thick soup of sugar!
Neither of these are as good as the pollen or the honey that come from the honeybees themselves, however, when it comes down to making sure your bees have enough food, safe is better than sorry.
It isn’t the cold that kills bees in the winter.
The cold weather isn’t the main problem in the winter as much as the moisture is. If a beekeeper wraps their hives up or tries their best to make sure the hive is sealed up for the winter, moisture will be the killer.
Honeybees generating heat on the inside of the hive, mixed with the cold weather on the outside creates a lot of condensation that drips onto the bees.
The best way to avoid this is to make sure your hive is ventilated. This can be done by making sure there’s a small opening at the bottom of the hive and an opening on the top. In the fall, I will usually use a small stick or a small flat rock to prop open the lid.
The best comparison is if you’re sweating inside your house and you walk outside into the cold weather. It feels even worse than if you weren’t so hot beforehand.
Honeybees are survivors!
Honeybees really are fascinating! Regardless of the season, bees have their own way of making it through and surviving. Their unique way of living is what perked my interest to begin with. Now I’m addicted to learn more about how their social structure works and how they function.
There’s always something new to learn about them. Just when I think I have these gals figured out, they show you something else that you didn’t know.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot that is threatening them. Looking past that and just how they function as a whole is really quite captivating!
Please leave a comment below and let me know what your thoughts are about how bees survive in the winter. Or if you have any of your own questions.
45 comments on “Honeybees in the winter – What do they do?”
Babsie WagnerFebruary 18, 2019 at 3:27 am
As a true lover of fruits and vegetables, I cherish our wonderful honey bees. I know the importance of them in the eco system, and my children do too. I remember one year we had a big scare here in upstate New York where it was reported the bee population was way down, and we might not get the apple crops we were used to. I believe it all ended up ok, but it was a little scary at the time. I’m sad to hear those poor drones are kicked out, but I guess they have no purpose over winter. Still kind of sad for them. Thanks for such an interesting article on one of my very favorite creatures on earth!
RandiFebruary 19, 2019 at 2:49 am
I’m always thrilled to hear of other people who understand how important bees are. I hope we are able to make it so there is never a shortage of bees again! I appreciate you taking the time to read my article!
Aweda OlakunleFebruary 18, 2019 at 3:52 am
Honeybees are so fascinating and they are always full of suprises. A lot can be learnt from their lifestyle by humans. they seem so intelligent in such a way that they have most of their lives planned out. Every activity is meticolusly carried out. They also know how to survive on their own im the winter. Bees are really the most amazing insects. I am also interested in learning more about their social structure and how they function. Thanks for the insight.
RandiFebruary 19, 2019 at 2:47 am
You are absolutely correct! There is a lot to learn from honeybees and their social structure really is intriguing! Thank you for your response!
Yormith96February 18, 2019 at 8:13 am
Hi there, thanks for coming up with this educative article about how honeybee survived during summer, I must say u have really enlightened me personally and u have proven beyond doubt that you are truly a beekeeper, I have always believed that honeybee are all dead or they all moved their colonies to another country during summer, but your article has really explained how they survived, u have add more to my knowledge. Kudos
RandiFebruary 19, 2019 at 2:38 am
Thank you! It’s my goal to enlighten others about how wonderful this little creatures are and I’m glad that you enjoyed the read. I appreciate your response!
AlexandraFebruary 19, 2019 at 3:29 am
wow! I had no idea that they clustered together like that. They are quite and amazing little creature. My dad has honeybees and he absolutely loves looking after them. I have never really understood why. I must agree to, that they are survivors and you have taught me a lot about these little creatures that I didn’t know. I do know they are very important to us if we want to stay on this planet and they are therefor worth looking after and caring for.
RandiFebruary 19, 2019 at 4:49 am
How honeybees work really is very intriguing and addictive. It’s always nice to hear of other beekeepers, too! Thank you for your response!
JenFebruary 19, 2019 at 3:47 am
I’ve always been scared of bees in general even though I know how important they are to our ecosystem. I think because I got stung as a kid so that anxiety just followed me everywhere. But I love honey I must add, and your site is so informative that I want to make sure my son knows that importance of bees and how they contribute to our world. Thanks for sharing you insight.
RandiFebruary 19, 2019 at 4:43 am
Hello Jen! Thank you for your response! I’m thrilled to hear that you are interested in sharing how important honeybees are. Yes, they can be a bit intimidating but for the most part, honeybees really are docile. Unlike wasps of course!
KristiFebruary 19, 2019 at 5:25 am
This article was really interesting! I learned quite a few things. Bees are such fascinating creatures, thank you for sharing your knowledge!
RandiFebruary 21, 2019 at 2:43 am
Thank you! I’m glad you liked it!
Thabo KhozaFebruary 19, 2019 at 10:03 am
Wow this is such a unique article and topic because I have learnt a lot about bees already..heck I never new the bees worked harder in summer so as it have reserves for winter and also the moisture part was great to know about for beekeepers.
Keep it up great work and great and beautiful website
RandiFebruary 21, 2019 at 2:45 am
Thank you for your reply! It’s been my goal to educate everyone on how important honeybees are and what they do. The way they work and their social structure is what lead me to the addicting world of beekeeping. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Bryce FritzFebruary 26, 2019 at 2:45 am
Well that sweet I just thought they fly away lol
RandiMarch 2, 2019 at 11:18 pm
It is pretty incredible knowing they stick around for the entire winter. Or that they try their best just to survive during the winter months!
Babsie WagnerMarch 5, 2019 at 5:07 am
I am indeed a lover of bees, always have been, and I do understand their importance. I always wondered what happened to them in the winter, and I found this article fascinating! So, beekeepers couldn’t put the hives in, like, a barn or someplace to keep them warmer? Also, you mentioned mites? Is there a way to ward them off?
RandiMarch 20, 2019 at 3:29 am
Hi Babsie! Thank you for your response. To answer your questions, honeybees will get too hot or can suffocate inside a barn or a building. Typically it’s other things that will kill them off instead of the cold weather itself. Sometimes they can even starve to death if the beekeeper didn’t save them enough honey too. As far as mites, this is one of the biggest killers of bees at the moment. It’s really hard to ward them off effectively without treating them with a type of chemical. I plan on creating more articles about mites and how destructive they are.
Lok WhichMarch 5, 2019 at 5:09 am
This I’m formation just educated me on how honeebess survived during summer which i do not know not until I read this post. I have been informed a lot from this article, I do not know they cluster around themselves like that, honeebess are so surprising . You really know much about honeybees , are you a keeper?. Thanks for sharing this informative and educative article.
RandiMarch 10, 2019 at 4:52 am
Hello! Thank you for your response. To answer your question, I am a beekeeper. It is an addictive hobby that I have become so intrigued by. Just when I think I have them figured out, they show me something new that I didn’t know.
LouisMarch 5, 2019 at 5:10 am
I’m amazed by the organisation of the honeybees. It seems they always have everything planned out. I was going to call it a perfect society but it would be injustice to the drones. I feel sad for them, having to be discarded during winter. There’s a lesson here for us to learn, it’s good to let go of relationships that serves no purpose.
It’s enviable the sense of responsibility the workers have. Doing all the work and also making sure the queen is kept warm. Wouldn’t I just love to be a queen!
Thanks for Sharing this, loved it as always
RandiJune 25, 2019 at 12:07 pm
Hello Louis! Thank you for your response. I particularly enjoyed how you mentioned that your take away is that it’s good to let go of relationships that serve no purpose. With the drones in hive, they do not serve any other purpose and would eat all of their food resources in the winter. Bees really are amazing!
OlalekanMarch 5, 2019 at 5:13 am
Bees are really an amazing insects ever created. Studying the lifestyle of bees is fascinating and intriguing about how they live their life in their kingdom. These creatures are intelligent and we human can learn a lot from them. They are of great importance to the ecosystem. I am surprised to know how they survived during summer and winter as against my belief that they vanish. I have really learnt something new today. Please keep the updates coming. I have bookmarked this page.
RandiJune 24, 2019 at 1:23 am
I am thrilled to hear that you had learned something new about honeybees! They really are a super organism that knows how to survive in winter and summer. Not only that but the intricate details that goes into how a hive works is just as fascinating. I will do my best to keep this website up to date with other equally fascinating information! Thank you for your reply!
VapzMarch 5, 2019 at 5:13 am
We humans are funny, sometimes, we eat foods and don’t care how they come about. I use honey a lot in my house but I never bothered to check out how they survive the winter so this was quite an interesting topic and read to me. What do you think happens to wild bees, I mean the ones that are in the environment and not in cultured hives??? Do they die off or they make their own clusters and remain there for the rest of the Winter?
RandiMarch 20, 2019 at 3:19 am
Hello! You’re right, a lot of people I’m sure are not aware of how honeybees play such a huge role in the foods we eat. To answer your question, wild bees in the winter months will do the same thing as they do in a human built hive. They will create their homes in a different place, but if they have had a chance to be there a while, they would have stored food. When the winter months came along, they will still cluster around the queen. Thank you for your response!
SammynathanielsMarch 5, 2019 at 5:13 am
I’ve always thought of being a bee keeper in the future, maybe when I have less commitments. One thing that intrigued me about them is that, they’ll always surprise you when you think you’ve known all about them. To be frank, I’ve never thought of their survival in the winter before, that’s why I find this post very interesting. However, there’s something still bothering my mind. You talked about the females kicking the male out to reduce the population and preserve the food supply, my question is, is it all the males that are kicked out? If yes, then who will mate with the queen?
RandiJune 25, 2019 at 12:03 pm
Hello! Thank you for your response! To answer your question about the male bees, yes all of them are kicked out of the hive. The queen mates once in her life and never has to again. She also gets to choose which egg she lays will be a male or a female. I hope this makes sense? So in the winter they are able to kick out all of the males.
MichaelMarch 5, 2019 at 5:17 am
Wow! This is an interesting article.
Let me appreciate you first for taking time to put this revelatory article together. I must say I love every bits of information of honeybee’s behaviour and what they do together to survive through the winter season are so explicit. My father keeps bee and I have bookmarked this post for him to read through. It worth reading and reading all over again. Thanks for sharing this with us
RandiMarch 10, 2019 at 4:50 am
Hello Michael! I enjoy hearing about other beekeepers out there. Too often I hear that it’s a unique hobby. Which is also great, but it’s even better knowing that there are others who are interested in bees too! Also, thank you for taking the time to bookmark this post! I appreciate it!
Adamu2March 5, 2019 at 5:20 am
I absolutely love this insightful article because it is full of great information. This is fascinating and intriguing to me.its not too easy for honeybee to survive during winter, but we must make sure they are fat and happy before winter comes in order to cover and protect their queen and keep her warm. They work so hard to clean and maintain their home. They know how to plan their movement in the winter. What an interesting topic about honeybee,thanks for the insight.
RandiJune 6, 2019 at 1:00 am
Hello! I am absolutely thrilled you liked my post and found it intriguing. What amazes me is how the honeybees know that they need to do all of these things. They truly are a super organism! Thank you for your response!
NettaMarch 5, 2019 at 5:20 am
Thanks for the fascinating look at how bees handle winter in more temperate zones. I had never really thought about it since Hawaii, where I live, doesn’t usually have snow except at the tops of high volcanoes. During our winter months, we do get torrential rains sometimes.
I do have a question. Since our bees do not have the kinds of winters when everything freezes and all that, do they still do the clustering and hiding away in their hive, and feeding off what they’ve managed to gather during the spring and summer months. Or do our bees just keep doing spring and summer things?
RandiMarch 20, 2019 at 3:16 am
Thank you for your response! That is an excellent question you ask, in areas that do not have snow or harsh winters bees will do business as usual. They do not cluster or do any of the things that you had read in my article. Instead they continue doing what honeybees do in the warm weather. Great question!
ToluMarch 5, 2019 at 5:21 am
Thanks Randi for this educative post. I actually did a work early this year on dangerous insects, and I saw someone listing bees as one. Bees are wonderful creature we all should be grateful to. The roles they play in food production are unquantifiable. They are quite organized and intelligent in their approach. I’m not surprised you said the cold that comes with winter does not kill them because they come together to generate heat to keep themselves warm..I would like to know how moisture kills bees.
RandiMarch 10, 2019 at 4:47 am
Hello Tolu! I really like how you put “we should all grateful to” honeybees. It is such a true statement. We don’t realize how much they do for us. I will make sure to do another blog post about how moisture kills bees in the winter. Thank you for your response!
JasonMarch 5, 2019 at 5:24 am
That was pretty good, I learned a heck of a lot there. The women are awesome kicking out the dead weight like that, males don’t cut it in the winter LOL. The question or well story first, last year about this time down the road from where I live there was a beekeeper from the central valley in California, he brought them out here to the central coast because of the freezing weather in his area. Vandals came and killed I want to say the majority of them. I felt bad for the people and I enjoyed seeing their boxes out from the road while walking my dogs. I’ll attach the article, in it, the suspected people that destroyed them told the landowner about the kids not wanting to go outside. Are bee’s aggressive in the winter months? I’ll never forget that and I haven’t seen the beehives since then. Just so disappointing. https://www.
foxnews dot com/us/vandals-suspected-after- 200000-honeybees-killed-100-hives-destroyed-in-california
RandiJune 25, 2019 at 12:10 pm
Hello Jason! I remember reading that same article. If only these people knew how important honeybees are they wouldn’t even consider vandalizing hives. Especially now with the invasion of mites and how detrimental they are. To answer your question, honeybees are not aggressive in the winter months. It is best to leave them alone in the winter so they can stay warm. I will not even look at the hives until spring or when the temperatures reach over 55 degrees. I hope this helps! Thank you for your response!
PrabakaranMarch 5, 2019 at 5:26 am
We all know the honey bees and I wonder how many know about the life cycle and social structure of Bees. I know that there are a lot of breeds of honey bees and hope you will cover these breeds also in your upcoming post. You have mentioned about survival in minus degrees temperature, and I am really wondering how they survive the desert summer temperature? Also, honey bees play a vital role in plants reproduction and thereby balancing the ecosystem. Nature’s cycle is great and if any element is broken it will be a disaster to the ecosystem and environment.
Thanks for sharing a wonderful post.
RandiMarch 10, 2019 at 4:41 am
Hello! You are correct, there are different breeds of bees. However, for the most part they have been bred together to try to form the most durable mite resistant bee. But you did give me an idea for another blog post. I will make sure to cover that topic. Thank you for your response!
Kehinde SegunMarch 5, 2019 at 5:33 am
Hi there, This is pretty cool post. As someone that knows the importance of vegetable and the eco system, I really cherish the importance of honey bee. But reading this post has educated me in some aspect of bees. I never knew cluctster together to keep their queen warm like that. I had no idea. Nice post
RandiMarch 10, 2019 at 4:39 am
Hello! Thank you for your reply. I always like to hear when others can appreciate our eco system and how the honeybee plays an important role!
cpanharunMarch 5, 2019 at 6:30 am
Thank a lot for the great informational article. If I did not read this blog I cannot find the details about how honeybee survived during summer. It is known that the birth of human beings almost five and a half million years ago, the presence of bees in the earth. The presence of bees in the pictures of primitive caves for a long time, the surviving bees in the world are not less than the numbers. Scientists said more than 20,000 species of bees are in the world. Apart from Antarctica, there are bees in all the continents of the world. I read this article and know about the importance of bees. There is no one who does not fear bees, but I know how important honeybees are for our ecosystem. Without the bees, life could not have existed in the world because they play an important role in the pollination of plants. I believe that honeybees are all dead or they all moved their home to another country during summer, but your article has undoubtedly explained how they survived. Your site is so informative that honeybee existed to know about their social structure and how they function. Thanks for writing. I’ve bookmarked this article and I’ll definitely share it with my friend.
Robert ColeJune 4, 2019 at 4:52 am
Seems to me, we need to enlist the support of the educational system having to do with teaching our young children about honey bees. Could those old observation hives be made safe in class rooms? Community involvement with Bee Clubs, equipment, and supplies might possibly keep the cost down for schools. The pollination of many foods, fruits, and other crops depend largely on honey bees. Use of pesticides can possibly kill thousands of bees. A little communication and cooperation between users of pesticides and honey bee keepers could help. You are doing a grand work, educating the public. Thanks, Randi.
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