Bee HVAC

Curious Fact: Honeybees are unable to fly below approximately 50 degrees F, and gradually become more lethargic as the temperature drops until, ultimately, they freeze to death. So you might expect this:

Chilly Bees?

to be a pretty desolate place inside and out right now. But you would be wrong.

Inside that hive is a bustling, busy colony of bees with their very own HVAC system. Their environmentally friendly HVAC runs on a combination of kinetic and metabolic energy combined with the ventilating qualities of thousands of tiny beating wings. Most of the winter, they will cluster together over the honeycomb, generating heat & moving moisture out of the hive with their activity.

Like humans, they’ll turn the heat up and down to accommodate circumstances, but on average the inside of the cluster will register approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Just what the president recommends.

However, according to this very interesting study, they’ll turn that way up in order to accommodate newborns. When the queen decides to start a new brood, her many daughters cooperate by raising the temperature as high as 105 degrees to incubate the eggs and raise the young.

All those infertile daughters are so dedicated to the task that they won’t abandon their baby sisters for anything–not even food if they’re starving to death.

Many a novice beekeeper has happily placed sugar water atop a winter hive and later been greeted by the sad sight, come Spring, of empty honeycomb with thousands of lifeless honeybee rear-ends sticking out of the comb where they died searching for one last lick of life-sustaining fluid.

That’s why one of the beekeeper’s most important tasks in caring for a hive has nothing to do with keeping them warm (they do a fine job of that for themselves), but rather making sure they have plenty of food in the right locations. Sugar water is an adequate food for bees in warm weather, but in winter the creatures won’t travel even six inches to collect food if they have young sisters to care for. So unless you let them keep all their own carefully stored honey, beekeepers must provide them with a plentiful supply of sugar water in the early Fall that can be stored and properly ripened long before cold weather sets in.

Now I wonder if I could get some of that dedicated crew in here to help me with plans for an environmentally friendly sauna?

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4 responses to “Bee HVAC

  1. I was wondering about how a local hive was doing, as the entrance was covered in snow! Your post is reassuring. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Suzy! Yes, it’s probably fine, although they really do need ventilation, in order to remove excess moisture resulting from their metabolic processes. Damp bees are sick bees. If you have access to the hive, you can push a little snow away from part of the entrance to let air flow in–it doesn’t take much. If the keeper is using an entrance reducer to prevent mice from entering the hive, there may be only a small hole at one end or the other of the entrance. The bees will use their wings to direct air in from the entrance and out of ventilation holes in the top, under the lip of the cover (not visible in the pic–I’ll see if I can get some equipment photos up). I use a screened bottom on my hives, so they have ventilation even if the entrance is snowed over. However, they will need to come out as soon as the temp gets above 50 for a little fresh air and elimination. By that time, the snow will probably have melted, but I like to make sure. By the way, don’t take snow off the top, because it’s probably helpful insulation (but don’t quote me on that–it’s just a hunch I have). I got your question about the top bar hives & yes, I looked at all that and definitely think it’s worth trying. I’ll be glad to help–and when you post about it, I’ll link to you from here! 🙂

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