Where our hives are located, on Barters Island on the mid-coast of Maine, the winds come up off the water to add some heft to the already cold winter temperatures. February 3rd-4th this year brought frigid air into Maine. Along the coast we dealt with temperatures well below zero and wind chills of -40. . Until it warmed up and we could get into the hives, we were SO anxious to find out if our bees survived. First, we used our Flir thermal camera to see into the hives without opening them. Out of all of our hives, we it looked like we only lost one hive! When it warmed up a few days later, that turned out to be true. We were sad to lose them but thrilled that the rest of the colonies survived this unbearable cold wind. Here's a picture from the Flir camera!
So….how do the bees manage to survive a Maine winter? Beekeepers help, but the amazing bees know just what to do! The beekeeper will add insulation to the exterior of the hives, place moisture absorbent materials inside and make sure they have enough honey or sugar- based food to last through the winter. The rest is up to the bees.
How Bees Survive such Freezing Temperatures
What they do is truly amazing. First, the workers form a cluster around the queen. To keep warm at the core of the cluster, they flex their wing muscles to raise the temperature to around 95 degrees – just from flexing their muscles. The outside of the cluster is around 45 degrees. There is a continual rotation of the bees from the center to the exterior, sharing the workload necessary to keep the queen warm. In addition, other workers travel to the food sources in the hive bringing back sustenance. On days when the exterior temperature gets a little warmer they will sometimes make short ‘cleansing flights ‘ to defecate because they don’t “ do their business “ inside the hives. Their lives remain pretty much like this until the temperatures creep up to close to 50 when they can fly efficiently. No matter how much help we beekeepers give them or how hard they work, Old Man Winter still takes its toll.
We’re lucky if we only lose 20 % or less of the hives over a winter. When spring comes we can split some of the stronger hives in two, adding to the number of colonies. With the warmer weather, the bees are ready to spring into spring and begin the process of gathering pollen and making nectar! Everyone is glad when winter is over and the bees have survived.