How the hell do bees survive winter? That thought occurred to me the other day when I read the news that The Polar Vortex will be making its dreaded return in the coming days. I mean, humans have winter coats, heat, and long underwear to cope with wintertime, and many creatures have fur, but what the hell do bees have to survive arctic temperatures?! In light of the fact that much of our food supply is dependent on bees and their populations are in decline, their survival through the winter is a particularly pertinent question.
Lucky for me, my mother has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior. As some of you might know, she is studying to get her Masters degree on the subject, and has made many short films about the scandalous, violent, and occasionally absurd sex lives of bugs, birds, and animals. Mom has a special place in her heart for bees: she loves them so much that she has dressed up as one, owns several beehives (which she talks to), and plants entire fields of wild flowers specifically to keep her them fat and happy. Here are her hand drawn cartoons and her explanations of how our winged friends make it through winter. – Elettra
The Queen Rests: Until 1600, the physically bigger bee in the hive, tended to by the other bees, was believed to be the king. Then a more observant bee keeper realized that the “king” was laying eggs – the king was a female! The Queen lays 200,000 eggs per year, but in the winter see rests – No more babies for a while.
The Massacre Of The Males: By the Fall, the sisters kill all of their brothers. Mamma, the Queen, gave birth to all the new males in the Spring. With less individuals in the hives, the honey stored for winter lasts longer – less mouths to feed. In a hive, all the bees are related as they are all offspring of the queen. The daughters do ALL of the work, therefore they are called worker bees. The males, called drones, do nothing. Their life’s purpose is just to mate with the virgin queens. In the Fall, all the corpses of the drones are found around the hives. Some with wings and legs torn off by their sisters in order to prevent the boys from flying or crawling back home.
The Cluster Of Females: During the coldest months, the sisters form a cluster inside the hive and beat their wings and flex their muscles to keep warm. No matter how cold it is outside, they have to keep the hive at a minimum of 59 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the middle of the cluster it’s even warmer – about 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. The cluster moves from the bottom to the top of the hive, consuming the stored honey for energy and survival. Winter bees (all females!) are different than summer bees. They are fatter AND THEY SUSPEND THEIR AGING PROCESS! Normal life expectancy for a worker bee is circa three weeks, but in the winter they can stop their aging to survive several months. Come Springtime, I find the worker bees at the top of their hive, read to fly off again in search of flowers to make more food for the hive.