Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January Thaw

Honey bees in the temperate region spend the majority of the winter inside the hive, clustered together for warmth. The colder the temperature, the tighter the bees cluster together. On warmer days, the bees expand their cluster and move around inside the hive. On these warm days, the bees uncap cells of stored honey and share the honey among the clustered colony. When the hive cools at night, the bees constrict to a tight cluster, pulling away from the available stored honey. The cluster always covers hive frames that contain brood, warming and protecting the fragile developing bees. If the temperature remains cold for an extended period of time, the tightly clustered bees are left at a distance from their stored honey. This can easily lead to starvation; the bees run out of food while there may be ample food merely inches away.

It is common in the Mid-South to have a brief period of warm weather in the middle of the winter. During this “January thaw,” the bees are able to fly from the hive to make cleansing flights in which they defecate. Bees eliminate their body waste in flights outside the hive. This winter has seen somewhat erratic weather. This warm weather has given beekeepers an opportunity to make brief examinations of their hives. Quite a few beekeepers are finding larger than normal numbers of colonies have died as a result of starvation. Bee hive starvation is easily identified by finding a considerable number of dead bees with their bodies located inside the cells, head first as in today’s photo. The queen can be seen in the center. A number of Mid-South beekeepers found similar starvation situations. Each beekeeper distributed the surplus honey from the dead hives to living hives. There is still a considerable amount of winter awaiting the bees before spring flowers supply the bees with food. In the meantime, beekeepers can supply emergency feeding by pouring dry sugar onto the hives’ inner covers.