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Part 4: The Bee Trail

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Where do the bees go in winter, do they hibernate?



Honey bees


Honey bees surrounding the queen.

Honey bees do not hibernate during winter. The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter. The colony reduces its size in autumn and relies on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available.


The colony clusters together inside the hive to keep warm using their bodies to generate heat with bees taking turns to be on the cold outside. The queen will remain at the center of the cluster. On warmer days honey bees will go on ‘cleansing flights’ to relieve themselves of waste.


Bumblebees


Bumblebee Queen hibernating in a plant pot.

Each species of Bumblebee have a very different strategy to honeybees. Bumblebees have an annual life cycle. After the new queens are produced and mate in the summer and autumn, the workers, males and old queens die off by winter time.


Typically, the newly-mated queens hibernate through winter. They burrow into soft earth or under logs and stones to escape the frost, preferring north-facing banks where they will avoid being warmed up too early by the winter sun. Despite this, some may still emerge confused on warm winter days.


Some queens choose to start new nests instead of hibernating. These overwintering nests are more common in the milder southern counties, especially in urban areas where they are fueled by winter-flowering garden plants, such as mahonia and heathers. This phenomenon has even seen bumblebees flying on Christmas and New Year’s day!




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