Monday, January 9, 2017

What Do Bees Do in Winter?

winter beekeeping

Beekeepers often get asked this question when the weather turns cold. People often inquire as to whether or not bees hibernate.

I'll answer this winter question, but first, we need to back up to fall. In the late days of summer, when the days start to shorten the bees do a rather harsh thing. The worker bees, which are all female, throw out the drones, which are all males. A drone's one purpose in life is to mate with a virgin queen should the need arise (an act which will end in his immediate death). As the bees begin to sense autumn coming on they will turn out the drones. Since honeybees are only able to survive as part of a colony the homeless bees soon die.

Going into fall and winter there are only workers and the queen left inside the hive. The goal at this point is to survive until spring. To do this the bees bunch together in a tight ball called the winter cluster. At the center of this cluster is the queen, the mother of every bee in the hive, kept warm and safe amid her own offspring.  The bees rotate from the inside cluster to the outside so that no bees ever get too cold. The colder the weather is the tighter the bees cluster. The bees shiver to generate heat.

The cluster moves around the hive a bit to be next to honey they'll consume for survival. Beekeepers never take honey from this part of the hive called the hive body, brood boxes, or nesting boxes. If the beekeeper feels that the bees have not stored up a sufficient amount of honey for a long winter they feed the bees to help them remain strong until spring.

Occasionally bees do leave the hive in winter. On days where the temperatures are high enough (about 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit) the bees will fly out of the hive for cleansing flights to eliminate waste. Bees are meticulous about the inside of the hive and never eliminate waste there. When it does happen it is the sign of a serious problem.

While honeybees do not hibernate other types of bees such as carpenter bees and bumblebees who are solitary do hibernate. For those species, it is only the mated queen who survives until spring.


  1. I just hope mine are still alive. Hardest time of year for my bees to survive, here in Indiana. It's supposed to get in the high 50's one day this week, but rain. I'm hoping for a little bit of sun just to see if I have any activity. Great job explaining winter for the honey bees. I get asked this question a lot.


    1. Where in Indiana are you? I was born in Muncie, but have been in Tennessee for almost 40 years.

      It's always scary with bees in the winter. Last winter on a snowy day (super rare down here) I laid my ear against the hives and could hear them humming away. Recently I did this and could only clearly hear one hive. But today the temps will reach the 60s and I've already seen a couple out and about.

      Hope your bees do well! Thanks for reading!


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