December 2020: Queens in Hibernation

Eastern bumble bee on European dandelion

The cold days are starting to increase more and more as we head toward winter. Dark-eyed juncos have appeared at my birdfeeder, and the hummingbirds are long gone. With such a frigid chill in the outdoors, some people may wonder as to how other animals have adapted to the winter season. Animals manage to survive in myriad ways – we, with our extra coats and gloves and heated spaces, head in a migration indoors. Many birds and insects migrate to warmer places. But many animals stay, and some have unique adaptations that allow them to live through the deep freezes and the lack of food.

Last year, I posted about frozen frogs: the spring peeper, the wood frog, and the gray tree frog are known for this seemingly magic act. I also talked about painted turtles and their underwater stasis.  This year, let’s take a look at hibernating queen bees.

When the days get colder, young, impregnated female bumble bees (often called “queens,” though this is a bit of a misnomer), will curl up in the soil or leaf litter for the winter. The rest of their colony dies out. The queen will begin a new generation in the spring.

Eastern bumble bee “queens” have been discovered hibernating in pairs in soil near the nest where they themselves were hatched. While it’s not known why they would hibernate in pairs, it has been discovered that they will nest near their own natal nest – or where they hatched.

Should you discover a hibernating bumble bee, or one of their wasp cousins (their young queens also hibernate in the soil), cover her back up gently with loose soil and debris. If she’s awake and active, leave her be in a sheltered place. Do not bring her inside.

To learn about how you can support queen bumble bees in the springtime, check out this post here.

Happy Holidays!