Honeybees head to the hive when temperatures drop into the 50s. As the weather becomes cool, the honeybees gather in a central area of the hive and form a “winter cluster.” A winter cluster is much like a huddle you may have seen at a football game — except it lasts all winter!

Bees have one main job in the winter — to take care of the queen bee. This means they must keep her safe and warm.

In order to do so, worker bees surround the queen and form a cluster with their bodies. The worker bees then flutter their wings and shiver. This constant motion and continuous use of energy is how the bees keep the inside temperature of the hive warm.

In order to keep shivering, the bees must have enough honey. This is how they get their energy. One of the most important jobs of the beekeeper in the winter is to make sure the honey supply stays full so the bees can keep shivering.

Though the queen is always at the center of the cluster, worker bees rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster, so no individual worker bee gets too cold. The temperature of the cluster ranges from 46 degrees at the exterior to 80 degrees at the interior. The colder the weather is outside, the more compact the cluster becomes.

In order to produce body heat and stay alive, honeybees must rely on honey for energy. Some studies have found that hives of honeybees will consume up to 30 pounds of stored honey over the course of a single winter. On warmer days, bees will leave the cluster briefly in order to eliminate body waste outside the hive.

Fun facts about bees:

  • Honeybees are the only insect that produces food eaten by humans.
  • Worker honeybees are female.
  • The average worker bee produces only 1/12 teaspoon of honey over her lifetime.
  • A worker bee lives about 6 weeks. The queen bee can live to be 5 years old.
  • Honey never spoils.
  • To make one pound of honey, bees must visit 2 million flowers.

 

17 Join the Discussion

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  1. Hello, Stephanie and Nicole! These are GREAT questions!

    We’re pretty sure some bears get stung by bees, but probably only in the areas on a bear’s body that have the least amount of thick fur! Honey-loving bears should be careful not to get stung on their noses and around their eyes!

    The bees in the video look really busy…maybe they had other things to do than sting the beekeeper that day! Did you know that beekeepers often wear special protective clothing to keep from getting stung? Here is a link to learn more: http://smallfarm.about.com/od/beekeeping/a/Protective-Clothing-For-Beekeeping.htm

    Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and for asking such awesome questions! :-)

  2. The lac bug produces shellac, and we use that on all sorts of candies and even fruits and vegetables sometimes, not to mention medicine.

    • Hey there, Tyler J! We’re proud of your creative scenario for bees’ activities in the winter! We aren’t sure if that actually happens in nature, but we think you’re doing a great job of being creative! :)

    • In the wild, bees will stay as long as they can. They only leave if there is not enough room in captivity. They will leave around a year from arriving unless you add super for more room.

  3. Great information, but it has been very cold and cloudy where I live for a few days now and just today I found a honey bee outside, I thought the thing had died from the cold but when I went to move it away it slowly started walking so I placed it in a cup with an apple chunk and after a few minutes it perked up and doesn’t seem to be half dead anymore. Now my question is why is it flying around when it’s pretty much raining outside?
    Thank you.

    • Hey there, Nani! WOW, that’s awesome that you found a honey bee right near your house! We Wonder if that bee had left the hive temporarily! We are so glad you shared your comment with us, Nani! There’s so much WONDERing to do! :)

    • Bee’s are always trying to collect food if it is warm enough. So, if a bee is out in the rain its probably gathering and can’t make it back to the hive.

  4. do bees ever go downward for feeding in the winter,i have a hive that the bees built an entire comb nest that is attached to the top board. i don’t want to cut the comb this late in the year,will they feed on sugar cubes placed under the bottom of the combs,

    • It’s great that you’re helping to provide a habitat for bees, Stinger! We’re not sure of the answer to your question. We encourage you to consult some books or Internet sites on caring for hives over the winter! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What do bees do in winter?
  • How much honey must bees store to last an entire winter?
  • How many flowers do bees have to visit in order to make one pound of honey?

Wonder Gallery

Wonder #51 - Bees Winter Static ImageVimeo Video

Try It Out

Feeling sweet? Give the birds a treat from the bees. Winter is a great time to make homemade bird feeders with simple, everyday ingredients.

You will need: a bagel, honey, bird seed and yarn.

Cut the bagel in half. Tie a piece of yarn through the center of each bagel half. Be sure to make the loop large enough to slip easily over a tree branch.

When the yarn has been fastened around each half, help your children spread a lot of honey on the flat side of the bagel. Sprinkle birdseed generously over the honey.

After your children have coated each half of the bagel in honey and seed, head out into the backyard to find the perfect spot for your new feeders. Thankful birds will soon be singing your praises.

 

Still Wondering

Scout honeybees leave the hive to search for good sources of nectar and pollen. If you’ve ever wondered how scout honeybees tell the other bees back at the hive about their discoveries, explore Science NetLinks’ Dances with Bees activity!

 

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