Ask a Naturalist: What happens to bees in winter?

Discovery Place Nature

When the weather turns cold in the winter, you may wonder, what do the bees at Discovery Place Nature do?

For many wasp and bee species, including yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets, the colony dies and only the queen survives.

But honeybees (Apis mellifera) like the ones at the Museum overwinter as a colony. Overwintering means that the colony clusters together tightly, filling empty cells on both sides of the comb. They shiver their flight muscles to generate heat.

In fact, a honeybee can generate a temperature of over 110 degrees!

Together, with the all the colony clustered around the queen, they can maintain the temperature of the cluster (although not the entire hive) at around 93-95 degrees, even when it is below freezing outside.

As winter winds down, the queen begins to lay eggs. The colony starts to expand in preparation for the spring and the arrival of flowers and nectar. Aren't bees just amazing?