How Do Honey Bees Overwinter?

When do bees start to overwinter?

Honey bees typically begin to start their overwintering processes when temperatures become lower than 50°F outside. Colonies will prepare by kicking out all male “Drone” bees because they do not have a function during winter and would only use up valuable resources. The queen will also reduce and eventually stop her egg laying and production of new bees while the workers will finish storing the honey they harvested all spring, summer, and fall.

drone bee force removed from hive

Male drone bee being forcibly removed from the hive by a worker bee

How do the bees stay warm?

infared picture of Worker bee cluster in the hive during winter

Worker bee cluster in the hive during winter

How do the bees stay warm?

Worker bees within the colony will congregate and form a “ball” of bees also known as the winter cluster. The bees will strategically place the queen at the center because it is the warmest part of the cluster. These workers will then vibrate their flight muscles to create heat while alternating which workers are at the edge and which ones are nearer the center. Temperatures on the edge of the cluster usually remain around 50°F while the center of the cluster can get as high as 90-100°F! Some beekeepers in cold climates will actually insulate their hives to keep their colonies warmer over the winter.

How much honey do bees need to survive the winter?

Over winter, bees, while in their cluster, will work their way through their hive feeding on the honey that they collected throughout the year. The amount of honey depends on a few factors such as winter climate, colony size, hive type and more. For our hives in Nebraska, we generally try to leave them with about 130 lbs. of honey or more. If they run low throughout the winter, we may even supplement them with a sugar board for extra feed.

Worker bees feeding on an added sugar patty

Worker bees feeding on an added sugar patty