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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What happens to the bees in the winter?

What happens to bees in winter? The survival of the bee through the cold months of winter is largely dependent upon the particular kind of over 1,000 species to which it belongs. Generally speaking, the social bees do not summer in the South during the winter, as do migratory birds, but, instead, live or die in their natural environs. The young queen bumblebee, who earns her title by being the one egg-laying female, or queen mother, in the colony of social bees, does survive the winter. She does so by burrowing out a hold in a well-drained sandbank, or simply by taking the easy way out by moving into a pre-owned home, such as a deserted mouse nest. Once settled into her nest, she plays happy homemaker and makes beebread from the nectar and the pollen she collected all summer, dumps the load of bread, lays eggs on it, covers it with wax, and relaxes atop it. Approximately 250,000 eggs later, her Highness washes her hands of the whole thing, and leaves the work to her offspring. As soon as the workers, or fertilized, but non-egg producing females sprout wings, they set to work, and only later get assistance in the form of drones, or unfertilized males. The workers bees and drones, who toiled for the queen all summer, are rewarded for their efforts by a certain death in winter. No bother...they are easily replaced by cheap labor, when the queen lays more eggs in the spring, and puts her new brood to work. Her counterpart, the young queen honeybee, earns her title by being the first of the special queen cells to emerge, and literally kills her competition, her sisters, in their queen cells, before they have the chance to emerge. The colony she rules is the epitome of efficiency, as it adapts to endure a full range of adverse climates. This species of honey-producing bee, ergo the honeybee, winters in a temperature-controlled hive. The worker bee thermostatically controls his hive with great precision, ensuring that the temperature in the hive's nursery, where baby bees are developing, is maintained at 93 degrees Fahrenheit, and that the temperature in the remainder of the hive does not drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The worker bees accomplish this winter task by fueling up on the honey that they have stored, and by releasing heat as they feast. The honeybee wisely keeps a stash of honey for herself, after the beekeeper has had his take, thus benefiting from his labor in the warmer months. The social bees utilize these months in a productive manner, by buzzing from flower to flower, sucking up the flowers' nectar as they bumble along. The nectar the bees extract from the flower flows to their honey sacs, which are enlargements of their digestive tracts, and are located in front of the belly of the bees. Here, the sugars from the sweet nectar of the flower, chemically transform, and are reduced through the honeybee's built-in mechanism to evaporate large quantities of water contained in the nectar. The honeybee stores the end product, honey, both internally, and externally. Pooh-like "honeypot" cells store the thinner version of honey, honey with a short "shelf-life," and honeycombs, the more concentrated version, honey with the "shelf-life" of canned goods in wartime. In a sense, the honeybee is preparing to combat, and to survive, the bitter winter months that lie ahead.

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