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  • Writer's pictureCJ Turner

What Happens to Honey Bees During the Winter?

This was one of my greatest questions, as the first beehives that I kept were in the Chicago-land area. During the winter, my beehives might see temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed impossible for a colony of insects to survive after being exposed to such extreme weather. How could they do this each and every year?

The Cluster

Honeybees will form a cluster around their queen as soon as temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit ( This center of the cluster, which contains the queen, will ideally be kept at approximately 90-100 degree

Personal photograph from a hive autopsy showing the remaining cluster of bees.

s Fahrenheit, even during the coldest winters. The bees accomplish this, by shivering their wings in such a way, that they are able to maintain this temperature. This is why it is essential for the hive to have strong numbers going in to the winter, as the cluster must be large enough to produce a sufficient amount of heat (

Honey Stores

Due to there being no natural source of food for bees over the course of the winter months, it is suggested that beekeepers supplement their bees diet with alternative forms of sugar i.e., sugar syrup, so the bees do not starve during the winter. However, the bees also use honey stores they have saved throughout the year to sustain their population until their natural source of food is available again ( To access these honey stores, the cluster will move throughout the hive feeding on what honey is left over from the year's harvest.

Physiologically Different Bees

"Winterized" bees are actually physiologically different than the bees you might see hanging around your summer picnic. These bees are generally larger and will live longer than the typical 4-6 weeks, so they may survive the entire winter season (

Bye Bye Boys

Due to an increased need for the most efficient size to space ratio, all boy bees, or drones, are killed off, leaving room for solely the queen and worker bees (

As it is getting colder more consistently, it is becoming that time where we must trust that our bees do what they were, in fact, born to do, and make it through the next winter. You can do it girls, you got this!


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