Have you ever pondered where bees might be going during the winter months? Bees are very much affected by the temperature changes, and when it’s cold, they don’t move so fast, and can freeze to death. So, for most of the bees that live in seasonal places, populations die off, leaving the developing young tucked away in various types of sleeping caves, or bags.
Honeybees overwinter, meaning they consciously live through the cold months. They can do this because the large home they live in has very insulating honeycomb drawn in close proximity to each other. This traps the heat the bees generate by clustering together and vibrating their flight muscles. As a result of this clustered heat generation, the hive can be over 90 degrees inside! What a grand example of teamwork really paying off! Honeybees are the only bees that live awake through the winter months; the rest go into hibernation.
Let’s begin with the story of the bumblebee. Bumblebee colonies begin with a queen waking from her diapause slumber early spring. She searches for the perfect cavity to start her colony from scratch, and by the end of the warm months, all the workers die off, leaving behind one young mated queen. You can spot a bumblebee queen by her very large size; she’s the biggest of them all. Only a mated queen will be capable of entering that state of hibernation (diapause). Once mated, she eats and eats and eats, until the temperatures become too cold for her to be out. When the temperatures drop, she finds a place underground, or under a pile of leaves, and sleeps for months. So take care when you are raking those leaves this fall.
The numerous solitary bees are not much different from the bumblebee, except that the bees left behind are not queens. Solitary bees die at the end of the warm months, leaving behind tiny packages all around containing adult bees (both male and female) frozen in time until next year’s warm months return. These packages could be underground (the majority), in soft plant stocks (raspberry plants are great for this), in wood tunnels, or many other possibilities these little resourceful beasts decide to use. These bees are safe inside their various sleeping quarters through those frigid months when blizzards hit, and the random 70 degree days hit the middle of December. The miracle is the internal clocks they all seem to have, to know when it is safe to emerge.
This time of year is a sad time for me, as my little muses hide away, and I am left with memories of warm months past…okay, it’s not THAT bad, but I do miss my little bees! I hope you will discover some of these little beasts nesting in your yard this fall, and that you will leave them until spring to put on the wonderfully entertaining show that has won my heart over and over. Remember, without bees, no seeds for many flowering plants, and no garden harvest in the fall. We need these tiny creatures in very BIG ways. Thank you for joining the movement! If you enjoyed reading this post, please share and invite your friends and family to join the fun too!