For many creatures out in the great wild, winter is a potentially life-threatening period. Heck, for me it sometimes feels that way. Anyhow, many mammals hibernate and some creatures otherwise adapt their behavior to just make it through. Honeybees are like that. Winter is a time to just survive. Honeybees are cold blooded so cannot self-regulate their temperature. Individually, they would freeze to death quickly if exposed to the cold of winter. Luckily bees live in community and work together to keep the inside of their hive warm through the winter.
Honeybees progress through various job functions between hatching and becoming field workers that collect pollen and nectar. Some bees clean honeycomb cells, others guard the hive from intruders and others take care of the queen. Researchers have discovered a previously unknown job in the hive. There are “heater bees” whose job it is to keep the hive warm in fall, winter and spring when temperatures are low. Basically, they can vibrate their abdomen or…get this…decouple their wings from their wing muscles so they can vibrate those muscles without having fluttering wings flying around all over the place in a cramped hive. Muscular vibrations cause friction which causes heat. Beekeepers have always known that bees somehow vibrate in a hive to keep warm, but the discovery that there is a class of workers who can detach their wing muscles to manage heat is new.
So, last week we had a few nice days. As I have mentioned before, bees don’t poop inside the hive (as long as it is a healthy hive and they don’t have nosema…bee dysentery). They still eat honey through the winter as they need the energy to keep warm…food in means they still make waste…but they hold it…until nice days like last week. I wandered down to the apiary to see how the bees were faring….to see if they were surviving the winter. If things aren’t just right, bees can starve to death, freeze to death, or otherwise disease to death. On nice days, I like to take a look to see how many colonies are flying…warm sunny days guarantee the bees will head out to poop! I love to see them out on these kinds of days as they are generally pretty docile and seem to enjoy landing on me to gain a little warmth. Sure, they can sting, but they rarely do.
So, friends, the bees look pretty good so far this winter. We are nowhere done with winter and many hard days are yet ahead, but this is a good sign for the midpoint of winter in the apiary!