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It's Winter - What are the bees doing?

Honey Bee Education

We’ve talked about how bees cool their hive, now let’s look at how they heat things up!!  As Fall approaches and the temperature drops, activity in the hive begins to change.  Once the temperature drops to 50˚F and below, bees will not fly.  It becomes too cool for them to maintain their individual body temperatures of 95˚F in flight.  When it gets this cold, bees will begin to cluster inside the hive.  This is where bees move themselves very close together in order to generate and conserve heat.  This cluster is usually formed where the bees can access honey and cover any brood (baby bees) in the hive.  In the coldest part of winter the queen will lay very little and in some cases completely stop.  During this time the temperature in the cluster drops to around 81˚F to conserve energy.  Once the queen begins to lay again, the temperature must be elevated back to 94˚F. Amazingly, a bee can heat its’ body up to about 111˚F, which is about 16˚F higher than their normal body temperature.  They do this by vibrating their abdomens and they can actually decouple their wings from their muscles allowing them to vibrate their muscles without using their wings!  They will regulate the heat so that the inside of the cluster is 94˚F while the very outside of the cluster is closer to 59˚F.  Bees do not attempt to heat the whole hive, only the cluster and the bees within it.  They will continue to cluster until the outside temperature is above 50˚F.  If bees get a warm enough day to fly in winter, they will leave the hive on “cleansing” flights (they don’t do their business in the hive) and reform the cluster as the temperature drops.

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