Bees thrive in the warmer seasons where they breed and make honey. In the winter, however, they face a lot of difficulties which may see to their death. If you don’t prepare early enough for the cold season, your bees will die in the winter.
Bees die in the winter when the temperatures run too low so they freeze and die. They may also die due to insufficient food reserves, lack of defecation so they become overwhelmed and die, the infestation of a hive by the varroa mites, and blocked exit points by snow which frustrates and kills them.
Luckily though, with best practices and applying precautions in good time, the colony can survive through winter. You need to prepare properly to prevent the bees’ mass deaths.
Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?
Different bee species behave differently during the winter season. For example, honeybees remain in the hive and form a tight cluster to keep warm. The male ones die while the rest shiver to keep themselves and the queen warm.
Bumblebees, on the other hand, will hibernate during the winter season. As a result, most of the bumblebees die during winter, leaving behind the queens who hibernate in well-drained holes for up to three months.
The solitary bees will be going through a metamorphosis just before winter. Then, when winter hits, the now-adult bees spend the season in their familiar territories and only leave when the climate is friendly.
Do Bees Die in the Winter?
Unfortunately, not all bees make it through the winter. There are various factors that may lead to bees’ deaths in the winter including the following:
1. Moisture in the hive
As they form a cluster and shiver to keep warm, they form moisture. The moisture is exposed to extreme weather patterns and condenses. The cold water drips, exposing the bees to death.
2. Poor ventilation
Poor ventilation on your old hives will expose the bees to imminent death threats. The bees will lack sufficient air hence will basically suffocate to death. Poor ventilation can also lead to blocked vents which frustrates the bees since they can’t move out of the hive to defecate.
3. Pests and diseases
Pests and diseases such as mice, honey badgers and varroa mites will often infest the hive during winter months since the bees are clustered together and rarely fight back. This is due to the cold and wet conditions which keep the bees sedentary. The failure to install mouse guards in good time will expose your bees to death.
4. Low food reserves
If the bees aren’t well-stocked for the winter, they’ll starve to death. Normally, they would venture out for water and nectar in warmer conditions. In the winter, however, there are no flowers and the bees feed on honey instead.
If the honey runs out before the winter is over, they’ll either starve or you give them supplementary food such as raw sugar.
5. Strong winds
If the hive isn’t shielded from winds during the winter, a lot of it will get into the hive and freeze up the bees. Essentially, the entries and exits to your hive should not face the windward direction to prevent this.
6. Lack of defecation
In the winter, the bees form a cluster around the queen to keep her and themselves warm. This cluster switches around with the bees on the outside slowly moving inwards so that those inside can move to the outside to defecate. If it doesn’t work that way, the bees inside will die from a lack of defecation.
Neglecting your hive during winter will put them at the risk of death. Aim to lift the lid of your hive at least once a fortnight during winter to check on remaining food supplies and any need to work on ventilation. Knock on the sides more often and listen if the bees buzz back. With the right Langstroth hives (or other hive types), you can prevent their death with this knowledge.
When Do Bees Die?
There are several instances when your bees can die. Some of them include:
- When the temperatures are extremely low, and snow is falling, the bees face a death threat.
- After mating in the summer, the male bees and aged queens die off during winter.
- Honey bees will die after stinging as the stinger raptures their lower abdomen leading to a gruesome death.
Naturally, bees have a distinct metamorphosis that allows a colony’s continuity. As the male and old queens die during winter, the new adults are ready to be released to the world after winter. The cycle ensures that there is longevity among the bees.
At What Temperature do Bees Die?
Extreme temperatures are not suitable for bees. High temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius and low temperatures below -2 degrees Celsius will lead to bees’ death. Only extreme weather patterns leave the bees vulnerable. Bees are highly tolerant to fluctuating weather patterns, and only the extremes affect them to the point of death.
Do Honey Bees Hibernate?
Honey bees do not hibernate. They are among the species that survive through winter. They retract to the hives and form a cluster to keep the queen and the eggs warm.
During this period, the queen halts laying eggs, and the bees feed on the honey stored for the season. The food, including royal jelly and bee bread, will sustain the colony until spring, when the temperatures are friendly.
What do Bees Eat in the Winter?
Honey is the main source of food bees depend on during winter. Honeybees are particularly keen on storing enough backup in the fall and spring to carry them through winter.
Bee bread, a combination of nectar and pollen, serves as a perfect meal for the bees during winter. The bread is stored in cells and effectively keeps the bees energized for the winter season.
The nurse honey bees prefer the royal jelly, a combination of honey and bee bread, to remain active throughout the winter season. However, once a hive runs out of food supplies, death is imminent for the entire colony.
Winter tips for beekeeping
If you want to have your colonies in one piece even after the winter season, you have to ensure you apply the best practices and apply these tips:
- Avoid disrupting the hive constantly before the temperatures rise to over 60 degrees Celsius. Constant exposure during an inspection will lead to cold water droplets affecting the bees.
- Replenish the bees’ food reserves consistently. Avoid feeding them with crystallized honey as they can’t afford the cleansing flights at this time. Also, keep off from feeding the bees with molasses and brown sugar as these are hard to digest.
- Install the right ventilation boards on your hive to allow proper air circulation and block out the strong wind.
- Strategically position rodents trap to prevent infestation in the hive which interferes with the bees’ daily routine.
- Clear the entry/exit points of the hive after frost to make way for bees that dare to take the cleansing flights during the warmer days.
- Strategically install a moisture absorbent material to collect the moisture before it condenses and forms water drops that could harm the bees.
- Monitor and control the varroa mites’ access to the hive as they are bees, great enemies, during winter.
With these tips, your bees will survive the cold winter and return to normal activities during the warmer seasons. You can also get bees away from your house if you get an unwanted colony with them.
To successfully transition with the colonies unscathed by extreme winter weather, it takes precautionary measures applied on time. The key among them is that you retain a sizable amount of honey as a beekeeper to sustain them through the season. A populous colony has higher chances of surviving winter as they will shiver and manage to keep warm even under extreme temperatures.
Bees are key for our entire ecosystem. They are great pollinators, and the excess honey they produce has high nutritional value. It’s also a popular ingredient for most medicinal products.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prepare your bees for winter.
Tufts Pollinator Initiative. Where do wild bees go in winter?
PennState. Winterizing Hives at the Arboretum at Penn State.