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Jan. 16, 2011

Bees Hunkered Down

by Carl Flatow

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Many people are surprised when they learn that honey bees don’t actually hibernate like bears in a deep sleep through the cold months. The bees cluster tightly inside their hive and move their wing muscles (without moving their wings) to generate heat – keeping the core of the cluster at about 95 degrees (body temperature?). They alternate positions, taking turns like penguins, with the ones on the outside of the cluster moving toward the warmer center and vice-versa. The honey they have stored fuels this activity.

What I find most interesting, is that the bees in our observation hive are doing the same thing, even though their nest is well within the warmth of a heated building.

Watching the group, seeing some bees outside the cluster moving about, some even venturing into the entrance tube which leads outside (perhaps checking the weather as much as they dare) I reconsider the concept of hibernation.

Sure, the bees as individuals don’t curl up and sleep in a secluded den, living off the fat they’d put on when calories were plentiful in the warm months. But, as a group – as a super-organism, aren’t they doing just that?

About Carl Flatow

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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