Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?
By: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension
I have been asked a few times what happens to the bees in the winter. Bees and other insects have special adaptations, so their species survives from year to year. Here is a look at bee adaptations and life cycles in the winter time.
Worker bees foraged all summer and into fall bringing in food reserves to last them the winter. When temperatures start to drop, honey bees huddle together to make a cluster and shiver their wings. Shivering provides warmth for the hive. Their main goal is to keep the queen warm so the colony can survive. The core temperature in the hive can be as high as approximately 91 degrees Fahrenheit. A healthy hive with adequate food storage is more likely to survive, which reinforces the importance of best beekeeping practices by the beekeeper all year. Read how to prep a hive for winter here.
A honey bee, Apis mellifera. Photo: Lisa Mason
Solitary bees live a one-year life cycle. During the life cycle, a female bee builds a nest underground or in a cavity. She will collect pollen and nectar to bring back to the nest. All the collected pollen and nectar is made into a ball called “bee bread” which will be all the food needed for one growing bee. The female lays an egg on the bee bread and seals up the nest. After the egg hatches, the larva will go through full metamorphosis from a larva, to a pupa, and on to an adult before emerging from the nest the following season. The lives ended for the female and male solitary bees we saw flying around this summer, but their brood is warm for the winter underground or in a cavity, and will emerge next summer.
The solitary bee lifecycle. Graphic: Lisa Mason
A native bee emerging from her underground nest. Photo: MaLisa Spring
Bumble bees live underground or in large cavities and have a one-year life cycle, like a solitary bee. During the summer, new queens and male bees hatched. They left their colonies to mate. As temperatures dropped, the male bees and worker bees from the current season’s colony died. The new, mated queens found a place to rest and hibernate over the winter, usually underground. When spring arrives, she will emerge, begin to forage, build a new nest, and lay eggs. The eggs will mostly be female worker bees at the beginning of the season. The queen will continue to lay eggs throughout the season. In late summer, new queens and male bumble bees will hatch and leave the colony and the cycle repeats itself. Queen bumble bees are capable of living alone, unlike honey bee queens.
A bumble bee, Bombus sp. Photo: Lisa Mason
For more information on bee lifecycles, you can read the Native Bee Watch Citizen Science Field Guide.
For more information on what happens to other insects in the winter, you can refer to this CO-Horts Blog post written by Jessica Wong.