Cold Bees

By Terry Golson


Yesterday started out sunny and the two-acre field in front of our house was literally abuzz with bees. This landscape is a combination of blueberry barrens and overgrown lawn. It’s a bee, butterfly and firefly haven, and as scruffy as it looks from a distance, we’ll keep it that way. It’s mowed only once a year, after a few hard frosts. Until then, wildflowers, and everyone who needs them for survival, abound.

 

But this time of year, life is precarious. Yesterday the weather suddenly took a turn to cold rain. Bees were caught out in the chill. They couldn’t fly home. All they could do was to hang onto the undersides of the flowers, where the temperature was a few degrees warmer.

 

There was no improvement in the weather today. The bees clung on.

 

A closer look revealed cold bees everywhere.

 

When there was a glimpse of sun, they started to move. When the clouds swept in, the bees hunkered down again.

 

It’s going to be too cold for bees tonight – below 40° F. Right now, though, the temperature has risen by a few degrees. Enough that I see them stirring and moving to the tops of the flowers.

 

I think some will survive. For a little while longer. However, most of these cold bees are bumblebees, and it’s only the queens and a few of her consorts who hibernate to get through the winter. It’s in the natural way of things that the others won’t last through the end of this month.

 

For the ones that do hibernate over the winter, the wildflower field will be ready for them next year when they wake up.

 

I’m by no means a bee expert. Do you have a favorite source for wild bee information? Tell me in the comments!


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4 thoughts on “Cold Bees

  • Chris from Boise

    Your meadow is a place of wonder!

    Bumblebee Watch (https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/) is a lot of fun. You submit photos, work through a simple key to arrive at a tentative ID, then at some time in the future a bee expert will review your photo(s) and confirm your hypothesis or positively ID the bumblebee. I’ve learned how to identify our common backyard bumblebees this way.

    Dave Goulson, a British entomologist, writes wonderful books about bees – not directly applicable to Maine but delightful and well worth a read. “A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees”, “Bee Quest”, “A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm”. I’m currently reading “Bee Quest” and loving it.
    Thor Hanson recently wrote “Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees”. I’m waiting to get my mitts on it after my husband finishes reading it.
    Bernd Heinrich wrote the classics “Bumblebee Economics” and “In A Patch of Fireweed”.

    If you get really inspired (and an extra few hours miraculously get added to the day), Idaho participates in a western bumblebee atlas project – citizen scientists documenting bumblebee populations. I just checked and Maine has an atlas project too: https://mainebumblebeeatlas.umf.maine.edu/. Even if you don’t participate in surveys, you can look up past year results by county to see what has been seen near you.

    Bees are endlessly fascinating! This summer on several cool mornings I found bumblebees having sleepovers in “my” sunflowers. Once the day warmed up, they’d feed a little more, then presumably head back to their nest.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Thank you for all of this! We will definitely get involved in bee citizen science. Have you read Henrich’s book about how animals get through winter? It’s based mostly on his life in Maine, and there’s a lot about bees in there.

      • Chris from Boise

        I need to re-read it – had forgotten the bee info! Always happy for an excuse to re-read a Bernd Heinrich book. There’s a fascinating book by John and Colleen Marzluff about John’s time working as a post-doc with Dr. Heinrich at his cabin (and much more!): “Dog Days, Raven Nights” . John is now a professor of ecology in (more or less) our neck of the woods, at the University of Washington, and continues his fascination with corvids.