I get this question from Customers and Friends many times; I always answer yes they do, and my answer always amazes the non-beekeepers. Folks would always reply “just how do they stay warm in all this cold?”
Depending on how much time I could spare right then, I give a concise version of the process bees use to stay warm in cold weather. Here I will try to give a little more detailed explanation of the complex wonder honeybees perform not only in cold weather, but during hot weather also to control their hive temperature.
Imagine coming over to my home
and I had these hives in my living room :-)
I keep telling about the wonders honeybees are capable of. My/Our girls are amazing little creatures who more than deserve our combined efforts, Beekeepers as well as non-Beekeepers alike, to make sure that we make this world a safer place for them to live in while they feed us.
They do feed us! Who would deny that Honeybees feed us?
Back to the feat Honeybees perform year-round cold or hot weather. Honeybee larva require a specific brood nest temperature between 32°C or 89.6°F and 35°C or 95°F so their brood/babies develop normally. The brood nest temperature is of extreme importance to the colony therefore it is controlled with utmost precision by the bees. Larva that are developed at 35°C become the intelligent forager bees while those developed at 34°C emerge as "house keeper" bees that feed larvae and complete hive chores. The Honeybee hive chores are divided up among the worker bees which are all female; there is a group of worker bees that is specifically responsible for warming the brood by vibrating their thoracic muscles and generating heat for brood and hive temperature regulation; this chore went undiscovered by Scientists until recently and this group of worker bees were dubbed “heater bees“ by Scientist; bees of almost all ages can perform heater function by either vibrating their abdomens or they can also decouple their wings from the wing muscles, so they could vigorously vibrate these muscles without actually moving their wings. Amazing! This muscle vibration heats the bee’s body to approximately 44°C or 111°F, which is about 9°C or 16°F hotter than a bee’s normal body temperature. The “heater bees” can also directly regulate the temperature of individual cells by standing over it and pressing their thorax against a cell. Scientists used to think this action was just the bees resting, but they later concluded the bees were actually vibrating their wing muscles extremely hard and transferring that extra heat from their body to the cell or cells in need of warmth.
Normally, honeybee jobs are primarily assigned based on the bee’s age, however, if the hive needs more bees that are naturally inclined towards foraging jobs rather than housekeeping jobs, the “heater bees” can adjust the temperature of certain larvae cells to accommodate the production of the needed worker group by raising the temperature of those cell to 35°C or 95°F rather than the 34°C or 93°F; that slight fluctuation in cell temperature will produce bees that are more inclined to prefer foraging jobs, over housekeeping ones, and vice-versa; this manipulation of brood cell temperature help make sure that the needs of the colony can always be met according to the current workforce demand. “Heater bees” are usually fed by other workers so they could remain on post completing their warming task.
During winter Honeybees cluster, together towards the center of the hive with the Queen in the middle for warmth. The hive temperature which is usually kept around 35°C or 95°F during warm weather is allowed to drop to approximately 27°C or 81°F within the center of the cluster and about 7.8°C or 46°F on the outside of the cluster, to help conserve energy. The bees on the outside of the cluster rotate in occasionally so all the bees could be kept warm enough to survive the cold. Typically, after the winter solstice (Dec. 21) the Queen begins laying again in cases where she had stopped for a period and the bees then resume maintaining the normal hive temperature of 34°C or 93°F in the areas of the hive where she has new brood/babies. In some strong hives with a lot of stored pollen; the queen, which can normally lay 2000 eggs per day may lay a greatly reduced number of eggs through the winter if it’s a mild one. I have heard of cases in the far north where there is usually a much larger fall bloom than here in the Southeast the bees can store a larger amount of fresh pollen, so some queens seem to lay a reduced number of eggs throughout the winter because of the large amount of pollen and honey storage present even though the North is so cold during winter.
During the heat of spring and summer the bees control the hive temperature for optimal brood rearing also they protect vulnerable brood; when heat stress is localized in a hive, they can absorb heat from the brood in distress by pressing themselves against the brood nest wall, this behavior is known as “heat-shielding,” the adults then pass this heat off in the air away from the brood. Also, the workers farther achieve hive cooling by ferrying from a quart to a gallon of water per day to the hive, depending on how hot it is, from as far as 300 meters or 984 feet away; they spread the water around the interior of the hive then they fan their wings together collectively creating a draft which cause evaporation of the water and a cooling effect results in the hive thus regulating the temperature to the required normal for ideal brood rearing. Is this not amazing? If the hive is so full that it is too crowded for the heat situation many bees will move to the outside of the hive in a process known as "bearding." Simply put, sitting on the porch :-)
I have said it many times Honeybees are truly amazing, hardworking creatures! Check this out. These Honeybee girls truly give humans the best of the bad world we keep creating for them to live in. I know that together we can make the world a better place for the Honeybee. What do you say will you help save our Honeybees?