How Do Honey Bees Survive Cold Temperatures? - Little Bee of Connecticut

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How Do Honey Bees Survive Cold Temperatures?

We had our first substantial snowfall of the 20/21 winter season here in Southbury, CT this week. Over a foot of snow fell and gave us the chance for a white Christmas! With the snow comes cold temperatures and biting winds. Are you wondering how honey bees survive the cold weather we have here in the Northeast, USA?


Honeybees are Survivors!

Many types of bees and wasps do hibernate during the winter, however, honeybees are especially adept at surviving very cold temperatures. They stay very active throughout our long Connecticut winters and by working to create their own heat source!

Honey bees spend their time during the warmer months gathering nectar and pollen to create stores of honey. This is the same honey they will use as a food source during winter, along with bee bread and royal jelly. Therefore, when we harvest honey during our fall season, we only take the excess which the bees will not need for food. We leave them with enough sustenance to get them through the winter until the spring weather warms up their hives and they can begin visiting pollen sources again.


How Do Bees Stay Warm?

When the seasons finally change from fall to winter, and the cold weather creeps in, the bees start to cluster inside the hive surrounding their queen. This generally happens when outside temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The body heat generated by the bees can keep the queen, and the entire hive warm. If the temperatures rise a bit outside, the bees loosen their cluster and this will allow air to flow between their little bodies and regulate the temperature inside the hive.

Their goal is to maintain a constant 93 degrees F at all times within the hive. And, conversely, when the temperatures drop, the bees pull in tightly together to begin actively creating the heat they, and their queen, need. There are flight muscles in each bee’s thorax which can be tightened at will to create a vibration which then raises the bee’s body temperature. They don’t need to beat their wings to create heat, because their little bodies do all the work.


What if it Gets Really Cold?

During sub-zero temperatures, the outer layer of bees in the cluster will actually start to rotate in shifts towards the center of the cluster where there is more heat. The outer layer of bees will cool off while continuing to vibrate, and eventually they will push into the center so the warmer bees can take their turn cooling off. The queen stays toasty and protected during this massive group effort. Bees can die of hypothermia if their body temperature reaches 45 degrees Fahrenheit!

The adaptability and resourcefulness of the little honey bee will always fascinate and intrigue us. They are forever working for the good of their colony, and we will always be counted among their biggest fans.


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