Where do bees go in winter?
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.