Adventures in Beekeeping: Hive activity in cooler climates

Posted by on January 20, 2014 at 7:57 pm.

Earlier today, I checked on the hive and all is well. There was quite a swarm (today) compared to a few weeks ago, perhaps a few hundred honeybees were outside milling about the entrance… doing their honeybee maintenance. I walked right up to them and sat amidst the cloud as they buzzed about me. They paid no attention to me at all, but flew about spreading their wings. No I was not stung, have not been stung yet even though I’m right up amongst them usually without my bee suit. I imagine they were happy to be outdoors. I guess even honeybees need to get out before they go stir crazy from being cooped up inside the hive? Some have called this the “cleansing flight.” Honeybees use warmer winter weather to remove debris from the hive (including dead bees) and defecate. I hope none of them pooped on me!

I can’t say how many honeybees were there when I opened it up a few weeks ago, but it was in the thousands. I never tire of watching them, so not much difference than now as an adult to how I’d be completely absorbed in their activity when I was a child.

Fun facts…
honeybees don’t hibernate during the winter. They do maintain a tight ball that seems to move together. The queen is in their somewhere. They always protect her. Staying close keeps their temperature at around 90F. The workers flex their wings muscles to generate heat. The ball is moves often as the bees on the outskirts of the cluster move inward to warm themselves and those on the inside move out. The cluster stays over the brood to keep it from becoming cold and dying. It will also move to areas of honey stores in order to eat. I saw some of this behavior when I checked on them a few weeks ago. It was amazing to watch!

Did you know that drones (males) don’t sting? Because of this, they cannot defend the hive. Also, they don’t forage for food. The drones only purpose (it appears) is to mate with the queen. The workers (females) defend and gather food for the hive. The females (worker bees) bring the food back to the hive and along with feeding the queen and the developing bees they also feed the drones.

The males (drones) are kicked out when it turns cool so the remaining honeybees are female. While it appears cruel.. think about it, these are several that aren’t contributing to the hive at all. If they stayed that would mean several nonproductive mouths to be fed from a shrinking storage of honey. During the late fall/winter worker bees can’t collect nectar from vegetation in cooler climates (since they aren’t normally producing) so yes the drones have to be evicted to ensure that there is enough food for the remaining hive to make it through the winter. The queen will lay drones in the Spring.

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