Bees in Winter

February 28, 2010

: Ken Brown 
Summary Authors: Ken Brown; Wayne Esaias

The photo above showing a cold looking beehive in Bethesda, Maryland, was taken on January 31, 2009. With temperatures of 25 degrees F (-4 C), as they were on this midwinter’s day, there's not exactly a beehive of activity around beehives. Honey bees don't hibernate like many insects but instead feed on their meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) -- honey. If they've eaten it all, beekeepers feed them sugar water, as shown on the far right hive (usually there is a box over the jar, as on the two hives on the left). The bees cluster close together whenever temperatures are below 55 degrees F (13 C). Several of the bees in the middle of the crowd will turn on their flight muscles, creating in effect a miniature furnace that helps them make it through the winter, even in such cold places as Minnesota. They keep their nursery (the queen and larvae in the center of the cluster) at a tropical 93 degrees F (33 C), as long as they don't run out of honey or sugar. But spring is around the corner. Click here to see when honeybees begin to collect nectar to replenish their honey -- then click on some of the locations shown on the maps.