What do bees do over winter?

During summer months, bees would normally collect enough honey and pollen to sustain themselves over the winter months. Beekeepers help the bees collect more honey by adding ‘super’ boxes to the hives. It is these extra super boxes that are extracted and packed for human consumption.

People often think that bees hibernate over winter, but they do something even more fascinating during the colder months. Their major purpose over winter is to take care of the queen, so she can re-colonize the hive in spring.

In late autumn, when the bees have their stores of honey for the winter, they throw all the male bees, known as drones, out of the hive to die. They cannot afford to feed extra mouths and the queen does not need them for mating over this period.

Bees stop flying when the temperatures drop down to around 10 degrees Celsius. They stay inside the hive and form a ‘winter cluster’ to keep as warm as possible. The queen is kept inside the big huddle of bees to keep her warm and safe. The colder the temperature the more compact the cluster becomes. Heat is created by the worker bees shivering and moving back and forth between the inner part of the cluster and the outer part. This helps ensure no bee will freeze in cold climates.

Bees usually do not fly outside of the hive during winter as there are no flowers in bloom, therefore there is no pollen or nectar to collect. But on nice sunny winter days bees make sure they get some exercise and eliminate the risk of body waste by flying short distances and then quickly returning to the hive.