Where do bees go in win­ter?

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GREEN SPACES -

WE ARE now well into au­tumn and the first frosts are bit­ing. So what hap­pens to bees and wasps, which rely wholly or par­tially for their sur­vival on the flow­ers that have died back?

With one ex­cep­tion they hi­ber­nate, like a lot of small mam­mals, by shel­ter­ing from the weather and preda­tors to con­serve their en­ergy un­til flow­ers start bloom­ing again.

After the colony dies off in early au­tumn, newly mated bum­ble bees – next year’s queens – dig a hole two to four inches deep in a north-west-fac­ing bank, where they spend the win­ter. The queen’s body goes into a state of tor­por and can with­stand tem­per­a­tures as low as mi­nus 18°C.

Wasps ba­si­cally have the same life­cy­cle as bum­ble bees. How­ever, after mat­ing, the young queens choose an al­to­gether warmer spot in which to hi­ber­nate: in your bed­room per­haps, on the cur­tain pel­met, or in a cor­ner un­der the car­pet! If they are out­side, they’ll be in a shel­tered spot un­der the bark of a tree, or in a crevice in a wall.

I have a soli­tary bee nest­box in my gar­den and vir­tu­ally all the bam­boo tubes are sealed with a small plug of mud. Inside each tube there are six to eight cells con­tain­ing lar­vae. Th­ese will de­velop and ma­ture dur­ing the win­ter and emerge as fully formed adult bees from next March.

There are more than 220 species of soli­tary bee, so in­evitably their nest­ing lo­ca­tion varies: some bur­row into the ground, oth­ers use va­cated bee­tle bor­ings in rot­ten wood or hol­low plant stems.

The honey bee is the one bee that does not hi­ber­nate. The colony pre­pares for win­ter by stor­ing honey dur­ing the sum­mer months. So, if it’s sunny on Christ­mas Day and you see a bee fly­ing, it’s a honey bee!

Fi­nally, two things gar­den­ers can do to help. Leave tall hol­low-stemmed plants in your bor­ders; they pro­vide an ar­chi­tec­tural fea­ture as well as a hi­ber­nat­ing spot for soli­tary bees.

And grow win­ter-flow­er­ing shrubs such as ev­er­last­ing wall­flow­ers, which the honey bees need to re­fuel on sunny win­ter days.

To learn more about the life­cy­cle of bees, go to www.bbowt.org.uk/wildlife/wildlifead­vice/wild-info-bees.

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