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Do Bees Hibernate in Winter?

Britain's 270 bee species have various strategies for coping with the winter months.

Do Honeybees Hibernate?

No, bees overwinter as a strong colony clustered together, using their bodies to generate heat. This cluster is about the size of a football, with bees taking turns to be on the cold outside like teeny penguins.

The ultimate aim is to keep the queen snug in the centre, any brood (young bees) need to be kept snug too, but often Honeybees have a broodless period at this time of year which is fine as winter bees tend to last for 6months instead of the 6weeks of a summer bee.

The center of the cluster can maintain 32–37 °C, while at the surface of the cluster the temperature fluctuates to around 10 °C.

Wintr cluster of honeybees

Large Winter Cluster of Honeybees

On warm days, you may see bees fly out of the hive. If there's no food outside, what are they doing? Well, they're doing their business. Bees are very tidy and prefer not to poop in the hive. Instead, they go on "cleansing flights."

A lone winter honey bee takes a cleansing flight on a mild day in January.

Do Bumble Bees Hibernate?

Bumblebees have an annual life cycle. After the new queens are produced and mate in the summer and autumn, the workers, males and old queens die off by winter time.

Typically, the newly-mated queens hibernate through winter. They burrow into soft earth or under logs and stones to escape the frost, preferring north-facing banks where they will avoid being warmed up too early by the winter sun.

Bumblebees queen hibernating in ground burrow.

Despite this, some may still emerge confused on warm winter days.

Bumblebee queen emerging before the end of winter snow.

Over the past decade or so, things are changing. Some queens choose to start new nests instead of hibernating. These overwintering nests are more common in the milder southern areas. Changing climates are thought to trigger this behavior.

Do the 250 varieties of Solitary Bee hibernate?

Solitary bees overwinter in different ways depending on the species. Unlike honeybees and bumblebees, most generally die off before winter comes.

had-working females have left their eggs sealed inside a nest in a cavity or burrow, provided with food stores of pollen and nectar. They even line their nests with waterproof secretions, to protect their young from damp.

The hard-working females have left their eggs sealed inside a nest in a cavity or burrow, provided with food stores of pollen and nectar.

They even line their nests with waterproof secretions, to protect their young from damp.

Solitary bees which emerge in the spring, such as Tawny mining bees, Ashy mining bees and Red mason bees will grow from egg to adult over the summer.

Solitary bee emerges having grown over winter.

During the winter, the new adults sit tight in their cocoons in a sleepy state of torpor. In this way, they are primed and ready to break out when the temperature rises, so they can take advantage of spring blossoms such as willow, blackthorn, hawthorn and orchard trees.

If the nests are dug out by people or other animals, the bees will evacuate early, which could explain winter sightings of some solitary bees.

Early solitary bee taking a rest

Solitary bees which emerge in late spring or summer, such as Leafcutter bees, Wool carder bees and Yellow-faced bees will grow from egg to larva (grub) over the summer, and overwinter in their larval stage.

Since it may be too cold to feed and grow, these larvae also enter a state of torpor where they use little energy. Come spring, they will pupate and turn into adults which fly out to feed on summer blooms.

Solitary bees seal the exit of a cavity on their bee house.

Few solitary bee species overwinter as adults in the UK. Some Furrow bees are notable exceptions. They mate in the autumn, after which the females may go to ground in a burrow over winter, emerging to nest and lay eggs the following spring. This only happens in the Southern counties, where the milder weather allows for an autumn mating season. On warm winter days in the south, the overwintering southern females may make excursions to feed. In Cornwall, some have even been seen as early as January.

Furrow bee rests on flowers

How can you help bees during the colder months?

  1. Plant winter flowering plants Plants like heathers winter honeysuckle, winter aconite, hellebores and snowdrop will provide food for overwintering bumblebees and others emerging on warm days.

  2. Avoid digging Don't bother digging your garden in winter in areas where you have seen solitary bees nesting.

  3. Leave dead stems They may have solitary bee nests in them, as well as other overwintering insects. Do a ‘spring clean’ instead.

  4. Move your bee hotel If you have a bee hotel, move it into a cool, dry place such as a shed or other outbuilding for extra protection from damp and frosts. Don’t forget to put it out again in spring, or leave a window open for the bees to get outside.

  5. Create bee friendly habitat Make a log-pile, rockery or earth bank in a North-facing area of your garden for hibernating bumblebees.

  6. Learn more about bees Join us at Humble bee on our exclusive 1 to 1 bee experience. Learn all about honey bees and other pollinators.

Bumble bee takes her first sip of sweet sweet nectar from early snowdrop

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