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538 River Rd, Ottawa, Ontario

  • Marianne Gee

Top 5 Questions about Honeybees in Winter


It has been a busy two weeks wrapping our hosts' honeybee hives for winter and we are happy to say that everyone is wrapped and ready for the cold. Many of you joined in and had lots of great questions. For those who were unable to join us, here are answers to the 5 most common questions we heard:

1. What happens to our bees in winter? Do they hibernate?

Unlike most other insects, honeybees don’t go dormant in winter. They stay awake and cluster together in a ball, keeping the queen and each other warm. They generate heat by shivering their wing muscles (but not flapping their wings) and can keep the cluster at a comfortable 80⁰F. The bees move around the hive in this cluster and eat honey all winter.

​2. Why do you insulate our hive’s lid?

Insulating the lid helps protect the bees against moisture and condensation. The cluster of bees produces warm moist air which will condense on a cold inner cover. If left uninsulated, this cold water could then drip back down on the bees, turning them to ice at night. By adding insulation, we can absorb some of this moisture and prevent condensation.

3. Why do you wrap our hive?

We wrap your beehive in a thick black felt paper. The black paper absorbs a bit of extra heat from the winter sun and repels water. Here's Matt wrapping the beehives at Wesley Clover Parks.

4. Why does the hive have a top entrance?

Air circulation is important in winter. The top entrance allows some ventilation and lets moisture escape. It also provides an alternate exit if their lower entrance is blocked by snow or ice in March, once its warm enough for them to fly around.

5. Do I need to do anything over the winter? What about snow?

You don’t need to do anything over the winter. The bees will stay warm inside the hive and will glue it shut. It is ok if the hive is surrounded by, or even completely covered with, snow. The snow acts as insulation against the cold weather. The heat produced by the bees creates an air space around the hive, ensuring ventilation

Bonus Question. When will we see our honeybees flying around again?

The bees will continue to fly around on warm days in November and sometimes even December. As a note, this is a time of the year that the bees can be a little grumpy - they have a lot to defend and everyone is home (nobody is out frolicking in the flowers). It is best to leave them undisturbed. Once it gets consistently cold, you likely won’t see any flying activity until March. In March, around maple syrup time, the bees will start to take cleansing flights. This is their first opportunity to go to the bathroom and you may see yellow specks all over the snow.