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Where Do Bees Go in the Winter? (Explained)

Bees can be found everywhere. There are 20,000 species of bees on the planet, with approximately 4,000 of them living in the United States alone. These insects are essential to our ecosystem because they pollinate plants, without which we wouldn’t be able to eat fruits and vegetables.

But where do bees go in the winter? How do they stay alive? Let’s read this article to find out the answers to these questions.

Where do bees go in the winter?

Bee on a chamomile flower
Bee on a chamomile flower

In the United States, there are many different types of bees, each with its own way of dealing with the winter. During the winter, some of these insects will hibernate, while others will work as a colony to keep their queen warm. These bees will remain in their nest until spring, when they’ll reappear to pollinate plants and flowers.

Do bees spend the winter in their hives?

Swarm of bees
Swarm of bees

Yes, some bees may spend the winter in the hive. The majority of bees are social insects that live in hives. They construct their hives from wax produced by their own bodies, and they live in these hives all year.

When it’s warm outside, these insects will leave their hive to forage for food and pollen; however, when it’s cold, and there’s not much foraging to be done, bees, preferably honeybees, will stay inside their hives to keep warm and use their stored honey to survive until spring arrives.

Do bees go into hibernation?

Some bees hibernate, while others don’t. Most bees, particularly those in colonies, don’t hibernate, but they do enter a state of torpor, which is similar to hibernation.

Hibernation occurs in mammals, which sleep through the cold season, whereas torpor occurs in insects, which can’t sleep through it. Instead, they enter a state of stasis in which their metabolism slows to the point where they can go for days without eating.

This is how these insects survive the winter. Other bees usually die before winter, but these insects also have ways to help their offspring survive the winter.

Bumble bees

White-tailed bumble bee on flower
White-tailed bumble bee on flower

Except for the queen, all of the bumblebees die before winter arrives. The queen has her own method of dealing with the cold. The queen begins her hibernation cycle by feeding on nectar to store vital fat in order to survive the winter months without food.

To hibernate, she builds a thick layer of fat around her body to provide her with enough energy to last until spring, when flowers bloom, and pollen is available for her to eat. During this time, the queen bee will go underground to hibernate. She will then wait until spring arrives and food becomes abundant again before establishing a new colony.

Honey bees

Honeybee getting pollen
Honeybee getting pollen

When autumn arrives, the drones, or male bees, stop being fed by the queen bee and are expelled from the hive, reducing the number of bees that must be fed throughout the winter. Only the female bees and the queen will remain.

During the winter, honeybees don’t hibernate. Instead, they swarm in their hive, as many insects do to survive the cold winter months. Honeybees create this ball-like structure by congregating around the queen bee in the center, resulting in a dense layer of bees that can stay warm enough to survive the cold months.

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Solitary bees

Solitary bees on nesting site
Solitary bees on nesting site

You may have heard that bees live in colonies, but there are also bees that live alone and only come together to breed. In the case of these solitary bees, the adults die before winter arrives. So they must mate and lay their eggs inside their nests before temperatures drop in order to preserve the next generation.

When a solitary bee egg hatches, it becomes an adult but stays inside its nest to survive the winter. This is a technique known as overwintering, in which a bee stays in a warm location to avoid predators and other threats. It’ll emerge as an adult in the spring and mate with another adult bee to ensure the survival of its species.

Do bees go back to the old hive every year?

There are two types of bees, and they behave in different ways during the winter. The first type will spend the winter in their hive, while the second will leave their hive to hibernate. When spring arrives, those bees who remained in their hives will resume their work, but those who left, particularly the bumblebee queen, may return to their old hive to start a new colony.

Ways to help bees survive winter

Digger bee burrowing
Digger bee burrowing | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Although not all bees survive the winter, those that do are critical to the continued growth of plants and flowers in the spring. This is why understanding how to help these tiny pollinators survive the winter is essential for them. Here’s how:

  • Some flowers bloom in the fall. So if you plant some of these flowers, then bees will be able to find enough food before the winter season comes.
  • Make sure any landscaping materials you use don’t contain pesticides or other chemicals that could harm the bees.
  • If you want to help your bees have enough food during winter, you can leave a dish of sugar water near their hives.
  • Leave wild areas alone to give them a safe place to hibernate, and ensure that any pesticides used near those wild areas are kept at bay by keeping them far away from the hives.

Final Thoughts

Bees are a great example of how animals can adapt to their environment. These insects have different ways of coping with the cold winter months.

Some bees stay in the hive, while others go into hibernation. Those bees that stay in the hive will often cluster together to keep warm, and they’ll also expend less energy when they don’t have to fly as much.