Honeybees live inside the hive through winter but do not hibernate. The workers form a cluster about the size and shape of a rugby ball around the queen. They huddle together and shiver to keep each other warm. As the weather gets colder the queen lays fewer eggs and may stop laying altogether, so the workers have little or no brood to care for.
Winter to spring
When the weather starts to get warmer in early spring the queen will lay eggs again and the colony will develop and grow in numbers. On warm and dry days the bees will fly away from the hive on ‘cleansing flights’ (to defaecate) or to forage if there are suitable plants nearby.
Spring to summer
The colony will continue to increase in numbers from 10,000 bees to around 50,000 bees in the summer. The hive should be at its fullest around July when there is a plentiful supply of nectar from plants and the bees should have an abundance of crops to forage.
Summer to autumn
The queen will gradually reduce the number of eggs that she lays and the colony’s population will decline. Eggs that are laid in autumn develop into winter bees who have a life cycle of about five to six months. Summer bees may only live for about six weeks, because workers eventually work themselves to death by collecting food and water for the hive. The queen has a much longer life cycle and may live between three to five years.