10/24/2013 Staff

What Happens in the Hives in Autumn and Winter?

  • beekeeper

Information From Millport's Beekeeper Arlen Ressler

As the fall flowers and the leaves on the trees begin to turn colors, honeybees know what is nearby. Most of the nectar and pollen becomes very scarce as the days become shorter and the fall clouds begin to roll in. The honeybees have already begun to winterize their hives. They begin to fill in any voids or cracks with propolis, a sticky resin they collect from trees or plants. The object of filling the cracks is to keep the blustery cold air and rain from blowing into their home. Also, the bees use propolis to inhibit bacteria and fungi from growing within the hive.

As the cold sets in, the activity in the hive begins to die down. The queen's egg laying is dramatically reduced compared to the summer months, and the drones (male bees) begin to get kicked out of the hive. Why do the drones get kicked out of the hive? Because their only purpose is to mate with new emerging queens. All the drones will be kicked out and left to die for the winter months, and the queen will begin laying unfertilized eggs, which will become new drones in the springtime. In addition, the old and weak begin to die, causing a drop in the hive population.

The surviving bees form a cluster inside the hive, which encases their queen. Their job over the winter is to keep their queen warm. You may think it is cold outside when icicles are hanging from your roof, but in the center of the bee cluster it remains a constant 92 degrees Fahrenheit. The worker bees generate the heat by constantly shivering their wing muscle. Also, honeybees consume the honey they made over the summer months. In Pennsylvania they will eat 40 to 60 pounds of honey over the winter months, depending on how far the temperatures fall.

The bees will stay in their cluster until we have a mild day, around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. That will be their chance to fly out to have a quick bathroom break. Yes, that's right – they hold it until they can go outside their hive. Not much will change in the hives until temperatures hit the 50s during the day. At that point, spring will be in the air and the honeybees will be buzzing once again.

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