The buzz of winter

A glimpse into the workings of a hive — thanks to local beekeepers

Courtesy of The Southwest Honey Co.

Courtesy of The Southwest Honey Co.

Ever wonder what honey bee does in the winter?

A lot of us do, apparently, because the good folks at the Southwest Honey Co. get asked that question a lot. Like, a lot. And those of us who do wonder about this have had our own ideas about what honey bees do when the cold air hits — all of which are wrong.

“People think that they either fly south or we have to move them to warmer climates or whatever,” said Alex Cornwell, the organization manager and co-lead beekeeper at the company. “Or they think they just die in the winter. They have no idea.”

So this winter, the company — founded by Cornwell and Megan Ryan earlier this year as a way to assist the dwindling honey bee population as well as educate the public — is conducting little experiment for those curious.

Cornwell’s brother, special events assistant Jordan Cornwell, programmed an endoscopic camera with a miniature computer to record the goings on of the inside of a hive during these cold months. “Live from the Hive” is up and running and now you can see what bees do during the winter.

Which is…maybe not that much.

At least, at the moment.

According to the Southwest Honey Co. website, honeybees typically halt flying when temperatures dip below 50 degrees. When this happens, they form their “winter cluster” in the lower portion of the hive, keeping the queen in the middle.

But if you’re lucky and watch closely and catch them in front of the camera, you could be treated to some amazing stuff.

The bees use their bodies to shiver in order to keep the center of the cluster around 36 degrees, according to the Southwest Honey Co. The outside edge of the cluster tends to be colder, so the bees rotate to take turns on the outside.

No bee freezes.

While the camera is now showing just one small aspect of a bee life, it does give the public a glimpse into how a hive operates, and how bees function together on a daily basis — most bees have a job that can change day-to-day.

“It’s one of those things that’s magic about nature,” Alex Cornwell said. “Most people live their daily lives and don’t realize the small things that happen.”

And the experiment is just the first the company has planned.

Cornwell said the organization hopes to use more innovative technology in the future to not only document the lives of bees but to collect data as well. This data is much needed in the bee-keeping world, Cornwell said, and can be used to make more sustainable hives.

“This is the first step in a long series of steps,” Cornwell said. “When we started bee keeping, one of the things that drew us to this was creating a larger initiative and investing more into what we’re doing than just watching them.”

Honey bee populations have been declining for years, which have some experts and bee keepers alike worried since the pollinators are vital for our crops. To raise money and help the local bee population, The Southwest Honey Co. is allowing the public to name individual bees at $5 a pop.

The company also produces honey and honey sticks and holds several events throughout the year.
If you’re looking for facts about honey bees, there are plenty on the company’s website or Facebook page — like how on warmer days in the winter the bees will exit on quick flights for bathroom breaks and how they will consume up to 60 pounds of honey throughout the winter to produce body heat.

And no, they don’t fly south.

They don’t die.

What they do actually do, you can now see.

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