Our calendar declares the New Year starts on January 1. We also declare that today, December 21, is the first day of winter. Taking the earth one year to circle the sun, our planet spins on an axis that is slightly tilted. The tilt of the earth’s axis causes the days to lengthen and shorten throughout the year as the sun strikes larger portions of the Southern, and then, Northern Hemispheres. These changes throughout the year give us our seasons. A number of species, including the honey bee, are sensitive to the changes in the length of days. They time life activities, including reproduction, according to changes in daylight. Our seasons change on days we call the solstices and equinoxes. The honey bee colony’s year seems to begin on the winter solstice, the day that marks the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night.
Here in the Mid-South, honey bees are clustered together in their hives for warmth. Worker bees forced their queens to stop laying eggs a number of weeks ago by restricting her food. The winter interruption in reproduction is a survival strategy that allows honey bees to conserve precious food stores over prolonged winters. Honey bee colonies maintain an internal hive temperature around 95 degrees Fahrenheit whenever there is brood in the hive. However, the bees conserve energy by allowing the hive to cool to around 70 degrees if there is no brood present. Just as we can conserve energy required to warm our homes in the winter by turning down the thermostat, bees conserve honey stores by lowering their hive temperature. Queen bees often begin laying a few eggs after the winter solstice. Though winter is just beginning, for the bees, this is the New Year. People throughout history have observed the relative movements of the earth, sun, moon, stars, and planets. Earlier this month, the moon aligned with the earth and sun to provide a colorful lunar eclipse with the moon setting at dawn.