Here in the NC Foothills, we don’t get a lot of snow. So when it happens, we go, well, a little nutty. Ah…the dream snow day… sleeping late and easing into the day with a warm cup of coffee… catching up with my facebook friends… cuddling in on the couch with a pile of magazines and a snuggly blanket. Maybe a little sledding or playing outside and then coming in for some warm cocoa. Sounds pretty dreamy, doesn’t it?
In my real world, snow days usually include searching the house for someone’s snow pants, rounding up matches to gloves, locating warm socks and convincing kids that long underwear makes life better. Sometimes by the time I get the third one completely outfitted in winterwear, the first one has already decided to head back inside, only to leave a trail of soggy mittens and drippy boots all over the wood floors.
Guess what y’all?!?! The bees have it all figured out! In the winter, the girls combat the cold weather by snuggling together in a tight ball called a cluster. The inner part of the cluster is the warmest spot, and that’s where the queen bee gets to hang out. As the bees on the outside of the cluster get chilly, they make their way to the inner part to take a turn warming up. The rotation of bees makes sure that no bee freezes. The queen bee stays in the middle of the cluster, snuggled up the whole time.
The bees create heat by flexing their flight muscles, but they do it without moving their wings at all, kind of like us shivering to keep warm. The colder the weather outside the hive, the closer the bees snuggle together. On warmer days, the cluster loosens up a bit and moves to another area of the hive to eat the stored honey in different places. The more bees in the colony, the warmer the cluster will be, thanks to more bees flexing thier muscles and creating heat. Small bee colonies have a hard time staying warm enough through a cold winter.
Bee Culture magazine has a neat article that provides a glimpse inside the hive using thermal imaging. The warm cluster of bees shows up as a bright red area compared with the rest of the colder air in the hive. The bees don’t waste energy heating the rest of the hive.
So the bees make it through the winter by snuggling up close and sticking together, taking turns in the warm spot of the cluster, and making sure their valuable queen is protected and warm at all times. Not a bad plan to keep their colonies from freezing. So as the storm drops snow outside our door, I’m going to follow their lead and snuggle up too. Y’all BEE SWEET and stay warm.