Sunday, January 10, 2010
You may notice that the observation bee hive located in Pacific Science Center’s Insect Village is much less populated in the winter months. Honeybee populations fluctuate greatly throughout the year, usually peaking in early summer and decreasing with the temperature outside. How do we cope with this problem?
In the wild, honeybees survive the winter by huddling together in the warmest part of the hive. The queen resides in the center of the huddle, and the worker bees surround her. Although most members of the colony will not survive the winter, it is vital that the queen makes it. If she can outlast the winter, the colony can rebuild itself in the spring. The worker bees must shiver and flutter their wings to keep the hive and the queen warm. They constantly rotate from the outside to the inside of the huddle, so that no one bee gets too cold.
Because nectar plants are scarce in the winter, honeybees must live off of the honey they have been producing all year. It is important for a colony to store up enough honey in the warm months to survive during the winter. Bees rarely fly during the winter, not only because there is no food, but because exposure to cold temperatures for an extended time can be deadly.
Our colony has an especially difficult time in the winter. Because the hive is relatively small, it is difficult for the bees to produce enough honey to last through the winter. In order for the colony’s activities to be visible, we sacrifice some of the depth of a normal bee hive. This means that the bees are more exposed to outside temperatures than they would be in a deeper hive, but we believe that seeing the queen and her brood is a valuable experience and it helps our visitors appreciate and understand all bee colonies.
Our animal care team works to keep the colony running through the winter by offering extra sugar foods and manually heating the hive. We also insulate the hive at night, keeping the remaining members of the colony warm through the end of winter.
Will they make it? That is still an unknown. In recent years, we have had to install a new colony each spring. However there is some hope this year. There is still stored honey in the hive, and bees are using the feeder. Our queen bee is still young and robust. If she can last through the winter, and we don’t suffer too many long cold snaps, there is a great hope that her colony will return and thrive as well.