What do bees do in the winter?

So what happens to honey bees in the winter? Bees pretty much disappear from the flowers and our minds as well, not to be thought of until pollen and flowers are abundant again. The easiest way to describe what happens to bees is that they hibernate. They don't hibernate like a grizzly bear does, but they do hunker down. 

By the time winter is here, the population of bees in every hive has dropped significantly. From 60,000 in the early summer to less than 10,000 in the middle of winter. The main reason for the drop in population is it takes too much honey to food 60,000 bees when it's too cold to fly and nothing is blooming. Less mouths to feed means the honey already made by the bees can last longer. Before and during winter, certain bees are responsible for carrying dead bees out of the hive. You can typically see the dead bees littered outside the entrance. 

Turns out, honey bees don't make all their honey for us to eat. They make it to eat during winter when nothing is blooming. 

The outside of a typical hive during the winter

The view from the bottom of a hive, looking at a winter cluster

During the winter, bees don't leave the hive unless the temperature is around 55° or warmer. Most cold days and nights, bees spend their time in what beekeepers call a cluster. The cluster is when all the bees gather together to form a warm ball around the queen and any eggs she lays. They do this because they wan't to keep the queen and the eggs warm. If either get too cold, they lose functionality and quickly die.

We use a special camera we attach to our phone during the winter to check on the health of the hive. They are becoming very affordable now and are worth checking out if you have multiple hives. Ours is made by the company FLIR.

An image from our Flir camera showing the cluster of our hive during the winter.

An image from our Flir camera showing the cluster of our hive during the winter.

Happy Beekeeping