The Winter Cluster

It is November here in Northeast Texas. Typically all is quiet looking at the beehives from the outside, however, this season is different. Due to a warm fall, the bees are still in flight collecting pollen, nectar, water, and propolis back to the hive.

As the season turns colder and the temperature drops below 55 degrees, the bees form a winter cluster. This is basically where all the bee in the hive gather together in a ball to warm the hive. In this ball, the remaining brood and queen are in the center along with other bees performing house duties while the balance of the bees are densely packed around the outside of the cluster fanning their wings to burn calories which generates heat. If there is brood present, they will keep the hive temperature around 93-95 degrees. If there is no brood present, then they will keep the temperature around 85.

Bees emerging in the fall (like the one pictured above) have a different composition than the ones during the Spring. The composition of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids changes to allow them to have an increased life span. A spring bee typically lives around 30 days. A winter bee can live up to 6 months.

The main composition different comes in the form of a glycolipoprotein called vitellogenin. A glycolipoprotein is a compound that has a lipid, a protein, and a bonded carbohydrate all in one. Vitellogenin is probably the most important compound in the beehive. It has several functions in the beehive from an ingredient in Royal Jelly to a part of their immune system.

Here are some links for further reading:


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