How Cold Can Honey Bees Survive? (Answered)

It’s summer and the butterflies and bees are abuzz and making the world colorful. But have you ever wondered what happens to them when the temperature drops? 

We have often been asked how cold bees can survive and how they fare during the winter.

Bees can survive temperatures of 55 degrees Fahrenheit and above, anything below that and their wings start to freeze. Also too much cold in and around the hive will cause the bees to be less active

If you are a prospective beekeeper then it is important to know how to keep the hive warm during the cold season.

Bees have a maximum temperature which their body can attain before they die and we will be giving you a clear picture of how you can prepare your hive to go through the winter unscathed.

Can Honey Bees Survive Cold

How Cold Can Honey Bees Survive

This is a vital question we are often asked whether bees can survive cold.

Scientists have cause to believe that honey bees originated from warmer climes in Africa and as such are not expressly equipped for intensely cold periods.

However honey bees can survive cold periods unlike many other insects who lay eggs and die off to be replaced by their offspring in summer.

They are able to survive with hive behavior and sufficient preparation towards winter

Once the cold sets in, the bees form warm clusters in their colonies around the queen bee and keep on moving around the hive to get to their stores of honey. 

At this period, there is nothing a beekeeper can do except to trust that nature will do its course. 

Many new beekeepers usually express their worries during this period however, going to check on the bees and opening their hives will let out all the heat they have been storing and cause them to freeze to death.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on will bees swarm without a queen?

What Happens To Bee Hives In The Winter

The hive usually stays active all through the winter to be able to survive.

Honey bees retire to their hives once the temperature drops down to 55°F as exposure to lower temperatures will freeze off their wings.

The honey bee caste is divided into three namely: the female worker bees, the queen and the male bees known as the drones. 

Most drones die during the winter period because once there is no longer nectar in the field, the worker bees drag the drones from the hive and stop them from returning. This helps to conserve their honey stores for winter.

The female worker bees form clusters around the queen and the larvae population to keep them warm.

Naturally, bees keep their honey above the brood nest which includes the eggs, pupae and larvae- so that during the cold periods, they will form clusters around the brood.

Once it’s close to winter, the queen stops producing so many eggs so the brood is not large during winter.

As the temperature drops and it’s getting colder, the worker bees form a tight cluster around the queen and the brood. 

The bees in the middle of the cluster are well insulated and have access to the food stores. The cluster moves around the hive to be able to keep reaching the honeycombs. 

There is also a shift behavior as the bees within the cluster move outwards after a while to take over from the ones currently keeping the cluster together.

Of course not all the bees will survive the winter and once the temperature is getting warm again, the bees begin stimulatively feeding the queen to prepare for production of a new brood to replace the bees who have died off.

At What Temperature Do Honey Bees Stop Flying

Honey bees cannot fly in all temperatures as flying in the cold can be fatal to them.

During the summer and spring seasons  when the temperature is between 57-100°F, honey bees are able to go about their daily activities collecting nectar and pollinating flowers. 

However once the temperature begins dropping to about 55°F, their ability to fly is seriously impaired.

At  50°F and below bees are not able to fly as paralysis of the bees muscles begin to take place and at 45°F the bees muscles can no longer move and it dies off.

In essence you probably will stop seeing honey bees flying at 55°F as they conserve their energy to keep their hives warm during the winter.

Also here is an article I wrote on will bleach kill bees?

What Temperature Do Bees Keep Their Hive

Beehive temperature is really important in the life cycle of bees as it is one of the major factors that affect bee hive health.

Extreme temperatures can kill bees or affect their honey production and quality so bees regulate the temperature in their hive.

For example if the hive gets too hot, the bee brood dies off and the honey stored by the bees loses water easily, reducing the quality. 

In the same vein, if the  beehive gets too cold, the broods will also die off and the nectar doesn’t dehydrate quickly enough to transform to honey. 

The temperature that bees usually keep their hives and which is safe for them is 95°F. This temperature is neither too cold nor too hot for the hive. 

During the winter periods, the cluster the bees form, ensures that the brood temperature remains at 95°F even if the temperature outside is below forty degrees.

How Do You Winterize A Honey Bee Hive

As a beekeeper one of the most important tasks you have is to ensure your bees are well prepared for winter and a major way to do that is by winterizing their bee hives.

1. Use an entrant reducer

An entrance reducer serves a barricade to reduce the size of the hive opening. The entrance reducer helps the bees control the hive temperature and ventilation. It ensures that the cold is not blowing into the hive during water. 

2. Wrap your hive

Wrapping your hive is another way to prepare the hive for the winter. It helps to regulate the temperature to ensure the cluster stays warm. 

The bees get to consume less honey because they are not expending a lot of energy, also if the cluster is warmer it’s easier for them to keep moving around to get to the honey stores.

3. Watch out for mice and varroa mites

Mice and varroa mites are some of the bees’ worst enemies. Mice eat up the bees’ food supplies if they gain entry to the hive while the mites easily transmit diseases to the bees and these could cause more than half of the hive population to be wiped out.

Ensure you set up mice guards around the hive and treat the hive for mites if you find them around the hive.

4. Feed the hive syrup

Feeding the hive syrup during the fall season helps to keep them well fed and reduces their dependence on honey. It also conserves their honey supplies for winter.

Remember to ensure the syrup doesn’t drop on the ground as this can attract robber bees to your hive.

How Do Beekeepers Keep Bees Alive In Winter

Even though your bees are resilient creatures and can handle themselves through the winter, there are few things you can do to ensure your bees are well sustained through the winter.

First is ensuring the hive is well prepared for the coming winter season. Check the hive for holes and repair accordingly. 

Another important thing to do is to ensure your bees have enough honey to last them the winter as insufficient honey supplies could lead to the death of the colony.

Most bee clusters usually eat about 60 pounds of honey during winter. 

If you also feel your hive location is not suitable for the bees you can move before or during winter.

You might also consider wintering your bees indoors to ensure they are well insulated and warm during the period.

Can I Move My Beehive In The Winter

Moving beehives might seem a simple activity at first but it is in fact a complicated process that requires calmness and patience.

The best time to move the beehive is during summer when the bees are active and not in tight clusters. 

However, reasons might come up needing you to move your bees during winter.

The most important thing to know about moving a hive is the 3 by 3 rule.

It means that if you are moving your hive any distance less than 3 miles then you have to move it only 3 feet at a time.

If you move beehives too far from their former locations at once, the bees might get confused when they return from foraging and return to the previous location causing you to lose bees either to death or by joining or colonies.

This would cause them to get lost and starve to death hence the rule which many beekeepers have testified to.

Before moving the hive, make sure the entrance is closed and the hive parts are well strapped together.

You have to be careful and gentle while moving the hive in winter so as not break apart the cluster the bees have formed.

While your mission would have been accomplished, breaking apart the cluster will cause the bees to get so cold they die and you might even lose the queen.

At What Temperature Do Honey Bees Become Active

Bees are most active during spring and summer seasons when the temperature rises and the air is light and warm.

Bees forage for nectar and pollen from blooming plants and the plants are always in full bloom during spring.

Once the temperature is about 55°F, bees can begin foraging however full foraging activity doesn’t occur until the temperature is at about 65°F. 

Can Honey Bees Freeze To Death?

It is possible for honey bees to freeze to death as they are not resistant to cold.

Bees are ectothermic meaning that the temperature of their environment affects them to a large extent. 

Bees do not fly in extreme temperatures and once the temperature drops below 55°F, there is very little flying activity going on and bees remain in the hive and begin to form a cluster to insulate themselves.

When a bee is caught out in extreme cold, its muscles go rigid rendering it unable to reach the nest for warmth. This results in the honeybee freezing to death.

Conclusion

As a beekeeper knowing the creatures you are keeping will make your work easier. 

Bees are tough little creatures and as a beekeeper all you have to do is ensure they are well suited for the coming winter season.

This will help you keep your bees alive and even though there might be losses they would  be minimal.

Written by Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books

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