Happy Winter Solstice!

It has been said by Thomas Seeley that the winter solstice is important to honey bees and how they manage their hive throughout the winter.

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest.

CREDIT: Stockxpert

The solstice officially arrives in the northern hemisphere late Wednesday or in the wee hours of Thursday, depending on the time zone you are in.

The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us on Earth (Thursday, December 22 at 5:30 UTC) but our clocks say different times due to varying time zones.

This year the winter solstice in St. Louis, MO takes place on Wednesday, December 21 at 11:30 p.m. CST.

After the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of winter, the days gradually get longer until spring season arrives.

Within the darkness of the hive, unable to see that the light lasts a bit longer each day, the queen bee senses that the solstice has arrived. The winter solstice is one of the first signs to her that it is time to take up one of the survival tasks of the hive: to begin rearing additional young bees.

Shortly after the winter solstice, maybe the next day, maybe several weeks later, the colony raises the core temperature of the winter cluster to about 95*F, the optimal temperature for rearing new bees.

When the colony reaches the desired core temperature the queen will lay a small patch of brood, using the cells that were emptied of their honey during the preceding weeks of cold.

At first, the amount of brood rearing is small, less than 100 cells. However, as the spring approaches, and the first flowers begin to blossom, the queen will begin rearing bees at a much higher rate.

The process is slow at first because rearing bees during the winter and keeping the brood nest at 95*F consumes a lot of extra winter stores, more so than if the bees were just clustered together at a cooler 75*F temperature.

How do they keep warm you ask? Simply put, they shiver.

In cold weather, the bees huddle tightly together. Bees on the outside of the cluster form an insulating shell while bees in the center of the cluster generate heat by shivering their flight muscles.

By eating honey (a high-energy food) the bees can generate just over 100*F in their flight muscles. At the center of the cluster is the queen, where she remains warm and protected from the cold winter air. As bees on the outside chill, they rotate to the center of the cluster.

I have great respect and admiration for the girls, who are outside shivering in the cold to keep warm, as I sit on my couch in front of the crackling fireplace enjoying it's warmth and glow.

Comments For This Post: (1) | Post Your Comments! Hide The Comment Form
Garet Cline says...
Date:   November 6, 2012, 9:12 am

Pretty excited love seeing this every year! Thought the bee information was really interesting it was stuff i didnt know. I feel like im the only one that sits outside and enjoys this event but capturing the beaty of the nature anytime is amazing.

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