What happens to bees in the winter?
Have you ever wondered where bees go in winter? And how does the weather affect them? Paul Hetherington from Buglife explains.
Where bees go in winter
While honeybees hunker down in their hives, other bees are more exposed to the elements.
Queen bumblebees hibernate underground or amongst logs and stones, which means they are vulnerable in times of heavy flooding.
Some solitary bees make nests in the ground too, with the larvae spending the winter in burrows preparing to emerge in the warmer weather. Unfortunately heavy rainfall can inundate their homes and wash away the loose soil of nesting sites.
The moss carder bee - one of our scarcer bumblebees with strongholds in the North - may have been affected by the recent catastrophic floods in Scotland, Northern England and North Wales. We'll know more when spring arrives.
Plants flowering early affect bees
Bees which emerge this spring may have difficulty finding food because of the warm weather we've been having. Some plants started flowering (and therefore finishing) early, putting them off-kilter with the life cycles of the bees which rely on them.
Lesser celandines are a good source of pollen and nectar for bees emerging in February and March for example, but were seen flowering in December in many places. This may be an even bigger issue for some solitary bees, which rely on just one or a few flower types.
Fortunately though, it hasn't all been doom and gloom for our wintering bees.
Warm winter boost for bumblebees
The exceptionally mild weather has allowed bumblebee colonies that are active in winter to thrive.
This recent phenomenon takes place mainly in gardens in Southern England, where colonies of buff-tailed bumblebees and early bumblebees take advantage of winter flowers such as mahonia.
Bumblebee numbers were up in December 2015 compared to the previous year - and bumblebees were even seen flying on Christmas and New Year’s day.
Seen a winter bumblebee?
If you have seen a bumblebee about this winter, you can submit your sighting to iSpot.
Records like these help us to build up a picture of how bees are doing across the country, across the seasons. You can also join Friends of the Earth's Great British Bee Count from 19 May - 30 June.
In the meantime, why not help bees by supporting a permanent ban on bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides. Just click the link below.
Pictured top right: Hairy-footed flower bee in nest
Paul Hetherington is Director of Fundraising & Communications for Buglife, a charity dedicated to the conservation of inverterbrates
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