The sun rose this morning as far south along the horizon as it will appear anytime through the year. We call this day the winter solstice. This is also the year’s shortest day. Starting tomorrow, the sun will appear to rise slightly farther to the north daily until the summer solstice, June 21, when the sun rises in its northern-most position. These apparent movements of the sun along the horizon have been observed since ancient times. They allowed early peoples to develop calendars, vitally necessary for telling farmers when to plant precious seeds needed to feed increasing populations. The life cycles of many species are tied to the seasonal changes associated with the length of days. Among those species is the honey bee. For the honey bee, the winter solstice is the beginning of the new year. Queen bees start laying eggs on the winter solstice.
Here, in the temperate zone, the blooming of most flowering plants follows the length of days as well, blooming spring, summer, and fall. Few flowers are found in the winter, and the life cycle of the honey bee follows the availability of flowers. The bees gather nectar from flowers, convert it into honey, and survive on it through the winter. The honey bee is unique, being the only insect in the temperate zone that stays alive and active throughout the winter. Honey bees eat the high-energy honey that they produce and generate heat by vibrating their flight muscles. They are thus able to survive in cold weather, clustered tightly together to retain warmth. Other insects, like lady bug beetles, hibernate in cold weather, protected under tree bark or leaves. Wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets die off annually, leaving a mated queen to start the next year’s colony. I communicated today with my friend, EAS Certified Master Beekeeper Wubishet Adugna, in Ethiopia, shown here with coffee that he exports. Wubishet’s tropical honey bees follow seasonal changes based upon annual rainfall patterns instead of the length of days.--Richard