Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: November 11, 2022
© Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock.com
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Bees are some of the most important insects on the planet. But, they seem to disappear for half of the year! In places where the seasons have heavy swings, bees have adapted to survive in the colder weather. In warm, tropical regions, that isn’t necessary, but for the rest of the world, it’s important for their survival. Today, we are going to be exploring the survival tactics of bees for when it gets cold. Let’s officially answer: Where Do Bees Go In The Winter? Here we go!

Where do bees go in the winter?

Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?
Bees have three primary adaptations they use in order to survive the winter.

©Goncharov Taras/Shutterstock.com

Since bees don’t have the ability to turn their houses heat up with a switch when it gets cold, they have adapted in some really cool ways. Around the world, bees disappear when the weather gets cold (unless they live in tropical climates), but what exactly are they doing? Well, there are three things that bees do in order to survive the winter: breed a new generation of winter bees, store up enough honey, and form a cluster to keep things toasty. Let’s break each one of these remarkable adaptations down.

Winter bees

The first thing that bees do in order to prepare for the coldest months of winter is to breed a new generation of bees. Generally, bees live for 1-2 months, not ideal for the three-month span that they need to survive through the winter. The response for the hive is to breed a “winter” generation of bees with a specific design to survive during this time. These “winter bees” are a bit larger, live for a little longer, and can keep things warmer. When things get cold, having a bit of extra body fat is useful! All of the male “drones” die before wintering, and then the remaining female winter bees settle in for the cold weather.

Honey storage

The second thing that bees do is store food. For humans, this is probably the most famous wintering process of any insect in the world, even if we don’t know that’s what it is. Honey is simply the bee’s way of storing food for the winter; humans have just developed a taste for it! The hive spends all summer and spring preparing for the winter by making and storing honey. Additionally, they create intricate structures (made of beeswax) to store the honey long-term. Honey doesn’t go bad, making it the perfect way to store a calorie-dense food to eat during the coldest months of the year. Bees don’t have refrigerators; they just have honey! With that in mind, it’s important that humans don’t take too much honey from a hive or they won’t be able to make it through the winter. Like most things, nature is all about balance.

Bee-balls

A third adaptation bees use during the winter is a “cluster.” This winter cluster is essentially a huge mass of bees that all huddle together. Once they get into the cluster, they begin to shiver and vibrate, which warms the center of the bee-ball. As they shake, the colder bees move towards the center and warm up, while the previously center-sitting bees move to the outside. This rotation allows everyone to keep warm and have their turn at being in the middle. At the core of the ball is the queen and the bees will do everything in their power to keep her warm during the winter. Part of the reason that bees breed the new generation of winter bees is because the larger bees are able to retain and keep the ball warmer than the smaller bees of the summer and spring. Incredibly, the bees are able to keep the center of the cluster around 90–100 °F through their vibrations.

Do lots of bees die during the winter?

Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?
All of the male bees die off during the winter, but most of the females are able to make it through most of the time.

©Aleksandr Rybalko/Shutterstock.com

The goal of the wintering strategies of bees is to keep as many female workers alive (as well as the queen). Before winter fully sets in, however, all of the male bees (the drones) die off. This allows the resources to go where they are most important, namely, the female workers and the queen.

Besides the mass die-off of the drones, the female bees don’t die unless something goes wrong. Still, there is likely some percentage of the workers that will end up dying from exposure or something else going wrong during the three-month span.

Where is the coldest place that bees live?

Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?
Incredibly, bees are known to live as far north as Ellesmere Island, well within the Arctic circle.

©iStock.com/joshanon

There is a group of bees who are the “most northerly subgenus of bees in the world”, as listed by the Guinness World Records. The Alpinobombus subgenus is on record as far north as Greenland and on Ellesmere Island in Canada. Ellesmere Island may have temperatures as low as -58°F and ice covers it for a large portion of the year. It may be one of the only places where bees live alongside polar bears!

Do bees make honey in the winter?

Where Do Bees Go In The Winter?
Bees can’t make honey in the winter because there aren’t any flowers to gather nectar from.

©Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock.com

During the winter, bees focus on one thing: survival. The most successful bees are able to secure enough honey to last them through the winter and a little extra. When a bee hive isn’t able to get enough honey, they aren’t likely to make it through the winter without losing large portions of the colony. Since honey is made using nectar (from flowers), it isn’t possible to make extra honey during the winter. This is why it’s so important for the bees to make enough honey to survive through the winter.

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The Featured Image

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Upon returning to the nest, honeybees can communicate both the location and direction of a food source to the rest of the colony just by wiggling the abdomen in a precise manner.
© Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do bees die in the winter?

The goal of the wintering strategies of bees is to keep as many female workers alive (as well as the queen). Before winter fully sets in, however, all of the male bees (the drones) die off. This allows the resources to go where they are most important, namely, the female workers and the queen.

Do bees make honey in winter?

During the winter, bees focus on one thing: survival. The most successful bees are able to secure enough honey to last them through the winter and a little extra. Since honey is made using nectar (from flowers), it isn’t possible to make extra honey during the winter.

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