I spent some quiet time with the bees this past weekend. Coffee and a big red chair (IYKYK) in the company of our bees bring me pretty close to nirvana. Winter is a time for rest for them. They stay pretty still, conserving energy and making trips outside the hive for “bio-breaks” when the sun is strong enough and the temp gets around 50 degrees or above.
Some may say that the bees are far more interesting in the warmer months. They are far more active at that time, for sure. But winter bees offer their own fascination. The queen takes a well-deserved break from her spring and summer egg laying and stops egg production. With no baby bee pheromone in the hive, the workers sense they no longer need to be nurse bees, and the job transition process from nurse bees to foragers is temporarily biologically stopped. These winter bees live a lot longer—6 months or so—than their spring and summer brethren, who generally live around 6 weeks. The prolonged winter lifespan allows the winter hive to continue while the queen takes the winter off.
Winter warmth is typically a big issue for bees, but it’s not so much of an issue for our bees living in the library’s spa-like environment. Wild bees will cluster together around the queen to keep her warm and protected during colder months. Workers will work themselves in and out of the cluster, similar to how penguins move in and out of their group, allowing those on the outside to warm up before they rotate back out again. Very selfless! While clustered, bees will shiver and vibrate their wings to generate more warmth to heat the cluster. All this takes energy, and the bees will eat their cache of honey over the winter to meet their caloric needs. Since our bees remain warm all winter in the library, they don’t need the same quantity of honey stores their outside cousins do.
May the bees serve as a gentle reminder that the library is a nice place to warm up on a cold winter day. I hope some of you take time to sit in the big red chairs upstairs to visit the bees. The next time you visit our hive, you should place your hand slowly and gently on the plexiglass over a large group of bees, then place your hand slowly and gently on the plexiglass over a vacant spot in the hive and note the temperature difference. I’m grateful to the library for keeping people and bees warm!
Skidompha Public Library