This period of winter finds area honeybees still living off their honey reserves but waiting for their chance to get out and collect some early pollen and nectar.
They will have to wait several more weeks, but the honeybees will leave their hives on short cleansing flights during warmer days in March. Many times in very early spring I have found some dead and chilled bees stranded in the snow as far as 300 feet from the hives.
Dead bees in the snow may worry new beekeepers who wonder why the bees are there — how did they get there? Winter or early spring sunshine raises the temperature on the inside and the front of the hive, causing bees to fly out a short way to void themselves, the excrement causing dark spots on the snow. Bees that fly even a few feet from the hive sometimes become chilled because they are coldblooded. They cool down and are unable to fly back to the hive. They drop to the snow, casualties of the cold, but it is a common occurrence in the bee cycle.
We have seen them out of hives on sunny days with temperatures in the 20s and 30s, even though the bees must realize it is too cold for them. Forced to remain inside because of the cold, they still often choose to fly rather than foul up the combs and hive. Ideally, they should have a warm flight day every four to six weeks. Beekeepers hope for a few warm days in December, a mid-January thaw, and a few more warm days in February and again in March.
Confinement for more than six weeks becomes serious, and disease becomes a problem if feces are discharged in the hive.
Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.