While most of the animal world requires extra attention during the winter, cold weather suits bees. Snow that can fall for days has a very good effect on bees. Although they would think differently, it suits bees to have snow and low temperatures in the winter, mostly because they are biologically accustomed to being dormant during that period.
The winter period is the end of autumn, the beginning of the spring heat. Wintering bees is an important moment in the life of every beekeeper that must be approached as responsibly as possible.
In order for the winter not to be disastrous for the bee colonies, it is necessary to prepare for the cold days that I wrote about in previous articles. I hope that we all did this part well and on time and that next year will bear more honey than the previous one.
Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?
I will be honest, before the first beekeeping steps, I wondered if and where bees go in winter? For such fragile and tiny creatures, it was unthinkable for them not to move to warmer regions during cold days.
However, when the cold days come, the bees stay in their homes, which they prepared for the winter days, whether they are hives prepared for them by the beekeeper or in the wild in various caves or cracks in the tree.
What Happens To Bees In Winter?
In earlier articles, I mentioned that bees, due to their sensitivity to cold, form clubs during the winter. The formation of a club depends on the strength of the society, so weak societies start forming at 13 degrees, while strong societies only at 8 degrees.
The bee club has the shape of an elongated ball, and there is a small cavity inside. At the club, the bees keep close together and in that way produce, use and store heat.
At temperatures below seven degrees, the bees stiffen and become practically immobile, and soon after that they die. In the bee club, they can withstand great cold and perform basic life functions, until more favorable conditions are created for their normal life and work. More favorable conditions first of all mean the first higher temperatures.
The bees gather in the heart of the hive, squeeze and hang on the honeycomb. The queen is in the middle, and her guards are around her. Bees form a sheath. When bees feel that they are being caught by winter, they crawl into the crowd and their role is taken over by others. The ball hangs, but it rises and falls constantly, that is, it breathes.
What Do Bees Do In The Winter?
The activities of bees during the winter are slowed down, but they have not stopped.
The bees in the club do not rest, as some think. There are three types of bee movements during their stay in the club:
The first movement of bees occurs due to changes in temperature in the hive. When the temperature is lower, the clubs shrink and become smaller, and the higher the temperature, the more clubs expand in proportion to the increase in heat.
The second movement of bees in the club is that the bees that are on the outside of the club, constantly and slowly moving towards the inside of the club and vice versa, those from the inside move towards the outside of the club. In this way, bees evenly take in food, produce, store and use heat.
The third movement of bees is the movement of the whole club towards food. When all the food is consumed in the place where the clubs are, the whole club is slowly moved to another place towards the food, where it is available. However, while the previous two movements can be performed even in the coldest weather, the third cannot be performed in times of low temperatures, so the clubs stay where they are until it warms up.
The movement of the club towards honey and in favorable winter conditions is very slow. It is, practically, imperceptible, as much as the consumption of honey is in the direction in which the clubs are moving. During the whole winter period, the clubs can move only 8 to ten centimeters. When the club shrinks, it moves away from the honey, and when it expands, it gets closer.
When the cold lasts for a long time, the bees may happen to consume all the food that is above the club and from the immediate vicinity. Since the clubs cannot move and get closer to the food due to the cold, although there is enough of it at the other end of the hive, there is starvation of bees which, if it lasts longer, can have very harmful consequences and even lead to the death of the entire bee colony.
It is interesting that the difference between the heat in the club cavity and the heat outside the club at a distance of only ten centimeters, can be over 30 degrees. However, on the surface of the club itself, even in these conditions, the heat is satisfactory for bees.
In early spring when the weather is warm for several days, these temperatures can lure bees out, which is certainly not good for society. This situation often leads to the demise of weaker societies, even though they managed to overwinter.
Do Bees Hibernate Over The Winter?
Hibernation or dormancy, one of the fascinating physiological phenomena of the animal world is also present in bees.
There are bees that spend the winter tucked away in some hidden place in hibernation (hibernation – a period of dormancy during which physiological processes are reduced to a minimum). After the nectar sources (flowers) disappear, the bees prepare for hibernation during the winter. That is why we do not notice them outside the hive, except during warm weather when they come out of the hive in search of food.
When the temperature drops below 14 ° C, the workers go to the hive area where the honey supply is. The queen stops laying eggs in late fall and early winter because food supplies are limited and the workers need to focus on the thermal insulation of the colony.
The ability of a colony of honey bees to survive the winter depends on their food stores. They maintain a suitable temperature in the hive by drawing energy from honey. If the stock of honey produced in the colony is short-lived, there is a good chance that the bees will die before spring.
In the absence of honey, worker bees force drones to come out of the hive, leaving them to starve. It is a cruel but necessary way of survival of the colony. Otherwise, the drones would eat too much precious honey and thus put the whole colony in danger.
Do Bees Die In The Winter?
We are already familiar with the fact that bees, in order to be able to withstand a long and harsh winter, need heat, which they themselves must produce from the honey they have collected as a reserve. We are back to the bee club again. In order to lose as little heat as possible, bees form winter clubs. Bees never die from the cold, but from the inability to reach food that can sometimes be only a few centimeters away from them.
Despite the excellent organization of the bee community in winter conditions, death can still occur, which is influenced by a number of factors. Here are the 10 I have read and listened to the most.
If we anticipate and react to these unfavorable conditions for our bees in time, we can help them successfully survive until next spring.
Lack of food – If there is not enough food in the hives, there is little chance that the community will survive the winter. If there is a lack of honey, the whole bee colony dies or only the bees that are in certain “streets” between the frames where there is no food. Cold weather prevents the movement of bees and moving the club to greater distances on the honeycomb, so there is suffering due to hunger and in cases where there is enough food in other parts of the hive.
The best way to check this is to slowly lift the top extension. Is it light or heavy? If it is too light, it is a sign that the bees do not have enough food. In these cases, the addition of sugar syrup is resorted to until a few weeks before the first frosts, and then by adding bread or crystallized honey. Of course, you can move the frames with more honey to be closer and more accessible to the bees.
Excess moisture – Excess moisture in hives is extremely harmful to bees. Elevated humidity can lead to condensation, dripping cold water and the death of bees. To cope with this, some beekeepers add newsprint to the hives or leave mild ventilation.
Temperature fluctuations – Significant temperature fluctuations can lead to the dissolution of the winter club. If this happens, the bees find it very difficult to return to the clubs. In order to mitigate the effect of temperature fluctuations as much as possible, it is desirable to put insulation and paper around the hives before winter, in the form of paper, Styrofoam, bags with straw.
Weak society – If weak society enters the winter, it is very likely that it will not survive. Consider merging two societies, preferably a weak one with a strong one. The easiest way to do this is with the newspaper method.
Strong wind – Another reason that can lead to serious temperature fluctuations is strong wind. Therefore, the hives should be protected in some way from direct wind gusts.
Varroa and viruses – Bee colonies that were heavily infected with varroa and the viruses it transmits in most cases perished before winter, but if the beekeeper has not noticed this before, he can now see what the situation is. Signs that lead us to this suspicion are finding hives in which there are no bees (they left the hive), then very weakened bee colonies – very few bees that usually die because they cannot provide minimal heating of the club or possible brood, are exhausted and they often suffer from nosemosis.
Nosemosis – Bees suffer from nosemosis usually not in the middle of winter, but only at the very end, and in the spring. Signs that indicate the disease can be brown stains from feces on the hive, frames and honeycomb, bees that have difficulty walking and flying, weakening of the bee colony, etc. It is necessary to distinguish nosemosis from the usual cleaning of bees. The safest diagnosis is given in authorized veterinary institutions, and in order to prevent the disease to some extent, it is advisable to send samples of dead bees for examination. Sampling should be done in January or February.
Closed entrances – Entrance to the hive must be free and passable during the winter. Be sure to clean the entrances after snowfall. If the hive is completely closed, there will be a problem with ventilation.
Pests – Mice and roaches enter the hives during autumn and winter, disturb the bees and cause significant damage. Roaches sometimes feed on bees. The sign that they were in the hive are the dead bees on the floor, the body parts of the bees, as well as the traces of their excrement on the hives. A sign that mice were present are usually chopped pieces of honeycomb on the floor, bitten and damaged honeycomb. Mice often make whole nests in hives.
Old combs – Frames with combs older than two years should be gradually replaced during the beekeeping season. Old combs are contaminated with pesticides to which bees are exposed during pollen collection. Regular replacement of combs reduces the degree of exposure to harmful substances and the risk of death.
End – Tip
Winter is the right time to look at and analyze the previous season and make a strategy for the new honey season. Reduced activities in the bee colonies during the winter should be used to visit beekeeping conferences and fairs, read beekeeping literature, and get to know the honey-bearing vegetation and exchange experiences with beekeepers from the area.
If we understand beekeeping in this way, then we can expect good results.