How do bees survive in extreme heat?

I have been really struggling with the very hot weather we have been having lately ,it made me think about how the bees survive in extreme heat. Honey bee colonies in the wild would make their nest in a tree hollow or rock crevice. The thick wood or stone around them would provide insulation against high temperatures but backyard hives only have a thin timber frame which doesn’t provide a lot of protection. I know we humans can put bowls of water in our gardens to supply extra water sources for the bees. I also know that heat stressed bee colonies are more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Ways we keep cool

The air conditioning in my house and car has been getting a good work out. We’ve also been consuming more ice and ice cream to keep our body temperatures in optimal ranges. Swimming at the pool or beach are also popular methods of keeping cool. Bees don’t like swimming, that’s why it is important to add rocks or floating pieces of wood or corks to stand on, into the water bowls we put out for them.

A pig swimming in the sea with a blue sky and white fluffy clouds

One way of cooling down. Photo          courtesy of Free Range Stock,              photographer Jakob Owens


So I did some research

I did some research into how honey bees survive in extreme heat. Bees like the temperature in their hives to be around 350C.  If it gets too hot the adult bees and their developing babies (the brood) can die. Queens can stop laying eggs and the honey combs can melt. Even in normal temperatures, bees need water for their diet, to make food for the developing larva, to dilute honey and to maintain the optimal humidity in the hive. Bees can use more than a litre a day during hot weather just to cool their hive…..that’s a lot of water when you think about the amount each bee is able to collect on a drinks run.

During high temperatures the bees that normally collect nectar and pollen stop this activity and 100% of the bees join in the hunt for and collection of water. They place small droplets of water on the honey comb surface, in empty cells and in little depressions in the wax on the top of frame bars. The bees then fan their wings which evaporates the water, cooling down the surrounding air. Bees are so amazingly clever creatures…..some will hold water in their crops and wait around until the water is needed.

Another trick the bees use to help keep the hive cooler in the afternoon heat is for all those not required in caring for the queen or brood or involved in essential air conditioning, to leave the hive. They may hang around on the outside of the hive. This is called “bearding” as the mass of bees looks like the shape of a man’s beard.

So, bees do have ways of surviving extreme temperatures but what about if we have extended periods of high temperatures as we may do with Climate Change? If the bees stop collecting nectar & pollen to focus on water collection will they have enough food? If the bees have to fly long distances to gather water during drought conditions will they die of exhaustion before gathering enough? These are interesting questions which some scientists are looking into.

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