Living With Winter Bees

Honey Bees

Honey Bees

Honey bee colonies persist the year round, unlike many bees and wasps that abandon nests in fall to overwinter as individuals. To survive the winter in temperate zones, honey bees must store food reserves enough to last the winter. After a hard freeze in Autumn, there is little opportunity to forage for nectar and pollen. In late Fall, bees stop producing brood, making fewer mouths to feed. In late winter, bees begin producing new brood that will be adults when it is time to exploit the resources offered by spring and summer flowers.

Spring and Summer bees are not long lived, typically living for less than 40 days. In late fall, the colony produces winter bees that have larger nutrient stores and have a longer average lifespan, typically over 100 days. The maximum life of winter bees is over 200 days, with a record lifespan of 304 days. It requires less resources to maintain a winter bee with a longer lifespan than to continue to rear their replacements. The winter bees typically do not leave the nest and therefore have reduced mortality compared to foragers. Forager bees have a higher mortality rate from predators, weather and other factors. Fewer resources are invested in spring and summer bees so fewer resources are lost if they die early. Winter bees are an important adaptation that allows honey bees to survive cold winters.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in behavior, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

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