Can Bees Be Frozen and Come Back To Life?

A common question among people about bees is whether bees are resistant to cold, or whether they can be revived if frozen. Others ask about the effects of extreme cold on bees and the methods adapted to prevent freezing.  Many creatures were made to adapt to climatic changes that would otherwise be dangerous to continued survival, take for example human beings; humans make involuntary muscle movements when in extreme cold (shiver), the kinetic energy provides heat that helps to regulate body temperature. Bears hibernating during the cold is another example of adaptation.

Can bees be frozen and come back to life? No, they can’t. Most insects can survive below subzero temperature, many can abide the freezing of their body fluids while some go through adaptations that helps to avoid freezing. Bees on the other hand are in some cases heterothermic (meaning that they are both endothermic and ectothermic), they adapt to climatic changes by switching between thermic conditions depending on the climate of their immediate environment. But in extreme cold or freezing temperature, bees that have their body fluid frozen are considered dead.


Are bees resistant to cold?

Resistance to cold indicates that the cold does not have any obvious effect on the organism, going by that explanation, it is safe to say that bees are not resistant to cold. In most cases, bees are ectothermic in nature i.e. the temperature of the environment affects to a very large extent the temperature of a bee, a cold temperature means a cold be and a warm temperature means a warm bee. In the cold, it is generally thought that people will hunker down in their homes under a blanket sipping hot tea, basically being inactive compared to when the temperature is warmer. Similarly, bees will not be seen flying out in extreme cold situations. In fact, bees cannot fly when the temperature is below 55° Fahrenheit because their muscles lock up at freezing temperatures, which means that a bee that is caught out in the an extremely cold condition will likely not make it back safely to the nest. In some severe cases, bees in a hive may not survive continuous exposure to extreme cold.


What do bees do during winter?

You’re probably wondering that; if bees aren’t resistant to cold and if they can’t fly when it’s below 55° Fahrenheit, how do they survive during the winter season or in regions with very cold climate? Like ants, bees work extra hard before the onset of winter to accumulate as much honey as they can. Honey is a major source of energy for the bees, when they consume honey, they have energy to create more heat.

During the winter, honey bees gather towards the center of the nest seeking respite from the incessant cold. Like termites or penguins they cluster together to share body heat which also helps to increase the temperature in the nest. With so much emphasis on clustering and huddling, it would be easy to think that bees would just lazy around and grow fat from inactivity while trying to escape the cold of winter. But no, bees don’t just huddle together they work tirelessly to protect and take care of the queen bee. Taking care of the queen is mostly about the regular bees doing their best to keep her warm and comfortable by clustering around her, the workers flutter their wings and shiver, creating heat from the movement. That is how they keep the hive warm and in moderate temperature during the winter.

The temperature in the hive varies from 45 degrees towards the openings into the hive to 80 degree towards the center of the cluster. Due to the inordinate number of bees in the hive, those at the center rotate place with those farthest away from the center so all the bees get equal warmth and some don’t freeze to death, most especially those of the outer rim of the cluster.


Are freezing temperatures of any advantage to bees?

While the cold is generally a pain in the ass for bees, it does appear to come in handy. Bees use extremely cold temperatures to help de-populate their hive. In a beehive, the drones are used mainly for reproduction. The queen bee produces as much eggs as she can during the warm months and when it begins to get seriously cold, the drones become redundant. The worker bees then remove the drones from the hive and exposing them to cold where the exposed drones freezes to death, this not only saves space, it also saves resources as a larger percent of the bees feeding on stored precious honey have been removed allowing the rest of the bees ration the much needed honey for the rest of the cold period. With this method of depopulation, a bee hive may lose half of its occupants during the cold period. This periodic depopulation allows queen bees produce more workers for increased work labor.


Bees surviving the winter

While some species of bees hibernate to survive the winter, honeybees do not. Honeybees can generate a certain amount of heat by flexing their flight muscles located in their thorax. Although their wings do not move, the vibration caused will raise their body temperature and help regulate the amount of heat present in the hive at any given time. They form a cluster around the queen and the brood and ensure that the temperature remains comfortable, the cluster warms the nest center to about 94 degrees Fahrenheit. If it gets warmer, the bees disperse the cluster and begin to move around the hive, surrounding food sources. The constant vibration and muscle movement performed by the bees takes its toll on them by draining them of energy. The energy expelled can only be replenished when the bees feed on honey, hence the reason they work so hard during the summer to gather as much honey as they can. Some experts believe that the sole purpose of honey gathering in such excessive amounts is the preparations of the bee for winter. A hive that exhausts its cache of stored honey may not survive to see the next winter because there would be no honey to feed on for the provision of energy. Ergo, they die of cold or freeze to death for not being able to produce enough heat.

During the summer when bees can leave their nests without the fear of freezing to death, an average bee colony can produce 20 to 25lbs of honey throughout their time foraging before the onset of winter. That amount of honey is almost always enough to last the bees twice over the duration of a winter period. In fact, a versatile colony of bees can store up to 60 pounds of honey before winter.


Related Questions

How do bees make honey?

Honey is by far one of the sweetest things on the planet that is produced naturally and so you’ve probably thought about how it is made. There are different stages of honey making, adult honey workers fly out in search of flowers that are very rich in nectar (a sweet liquid generated by flowers). They drink the nectar and store it in the “honey stomach”, the bee doesn’t stop foraging until its honey stomach is filled with nectar after which it returns to the hive and deposits a nectar that has gone through the “inversion” process. Inversion is a process whereby enzymes break down the nectar in form of complex sugar to simple sugar that is not readily prone to crystallization. The worker bees deposit the nectar into a younger hive bee. The younger bee takes in the offered nectar and also breaks it down into simpler sugar. The younger bee then passes on the nectar from bee to bee until the water in the nectar is reduced to about 20 percent. When the last bee senses the low level of water in the nectar, it regurgitates the already processed nectar and deposits it into the honeycomb where the bees begin to fan it with the aim of evaporating the remaining water left in the nectar…. It sure is a lot of work making honey, enough credit isn’t given to these bees for their industrious nature.

How much honey do bees produce?

An average bee worker produces one twelfth of a teaspoon in its lifetime, which lasts for about 6 weeks to 3 months. As a whole unit, a beehive can produce over 55 to 90 pounds of honey in a whole year. If you think about it, you’ll realize that’s quite the figure and perhaps appreciate our honey producers better.

Can honey be produced artificially?

Yes, honey can be produced artificially and it is actually quite easy. Artificial honey is made primarily from corn syrup or yeast cells. The form of honey made from corn syrup is usually a parody compare to the good old natural bee honey in that it lacks some essential components that makes true honey very healthy. Unlike honey made from corn syrup, honey made from yeast cells are very high in fructose even higher than true bee honey. It is probably because yeast cells are extracted directly from bees’ salivary glands.

2 thoughts on “Can Bees Be Frozen and Come Back To Life?

  1. This morning I found a hive that appeared dead (small cluster with last three days 10 degrees). I brought the remaining cluster inside to check for brood/mites/dysentery etc. After a few minutes I saw motion. Grabbed the hair dryer, stuck them in a nuc box and heated. Almost every bee and the queen back. It’ll be interesting to see the effect of near freezing on the queen. Do her ovaries still work? Is all the sperm dead? We’ll see. I’m calling them my zombees 😉

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