What do bees do in the winter?

During the cold months, one of the more common questions I am asked about is:  “What do the bees do in the winter?”.

The short answer is that they “sit in cluster” to maintain enough heat to ensure the survival of the colony.  It is extremely important that the bees have enough food brought in during the late summer and fall to sustain the colony through the winter months when there is no natural nectar flow.  This can be achieved by several methods, such as:  (a) don’t over-harvest honey – allowing the bees to keep their chosen food source for the winter; (b) Supplemental feeding of sugars and pollen substitutes so the bees have some source of carbohydrates and protein sources for their diet.

There is a range of management techniques available to beekeepers – and what works for one beekeeper, may not necessarily be what works for another person.

One method of determining whether the hive has enough food in it is to simply tilt or tip the hive to gauge the approximate weight of the contents.  If it’s heavy, I know there is a sufficient amount of food available to them.  If it’s light – then the bees may have already consumed their winter stores – and may need emergency supplemental feeding.

On warmer days, (i.e 40 deg. F and warmer) – the bees may take a quick “cleansing flight” to swiftly use the restroom, then fly back into their home.

Below are a few photographs taken with a FLIR thermal camera of a hive that took up residency in an owl box.  The homeowner did not want bees in their yard, so had me remove the bees from the property.  The removal was late in the year, so I opted to leave the bees in the box, until spring time.  At that time, I will carefully open the box and transfer the comb and bees to a commercial hive that can be easily managed.  Til then, they will enjoy the owl box.

(Click the pics for larger views) 2 views are shown – and the brighter colors show where heat is radiating through the wood.  This indicates the position of the cluster of bees in the box – and since there *is* a decent heat signature, tells me that the bees are doing well for now.


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