Where do insects like bees go in the winter?!

Posted in Blog on 6th March 2018

In the words of Eddard Stark “Winter is coming” … Or in reality, winter has already come!

That reality is clear as following a hard days work we trudge home in the near darkness with winter coats hanging off our shoulders, Christmas music filling our ears from high street speakers and thoughts of mince pies, mulled wine and central heating running through our heads.

After an evening spent watching Strictly catch-ups and bouncing boxers we then retreat to warm beds and snuggly duvets and that is where we hibernate until the dreaded alarm clock pulls us out of our dens.

But spare a thought for the humble insect? Where do these little critters and flying annoyances go when the weather gets cold and the days get dark?

Take for instance the humble, buzzing honey bee. In winter when the outside temperature dips below 10°C, honey bees stop collecting nectar and crowd into a cluster in the central area of their hive around their queen. Think pushing your way onto the Monday morning bus on a rainy day whilst your boss has a snug and dry single seat already.

You may see some fluttering friends flying about on warmer days to remove body waste, but they don’t venture far and once they have ‘done their business’ they quickly return to the edge of the cluster where they will periodically rotate from the outside to the inside so they never get chilly.

The buff-tailed bumblebee, unlike the honey bee, can be a winter active species in the U.K.

Huddling around their queen the workers shiver and flutter their wings to keep the centre at a balmy 27-34°C, fuelling this heat by chomping on their stored honey reserves- consuming up to 40lbs worth of the sticky stuff throughout the winter months. They will do this throughout the season but come January the queen will the start to lay her eggs, thus starting the re-population of the colony. Once mama’s babies have grown up these eager pollinators then return to their day jobs in the spring. Now think about that when spreading that honey on your toast in the morning!

Now I for one am always happy to see a bee fly by, especially due to their recent decline, but the same can’t be said for those annoying mosquitoes. We may assume that they have reached the end of their lifespans, and some mosquitoes which lay winter-hardy eggs have, but other mozzie species are still alive and kicking.

Well the females are that is… Sorry to say gents but after mating in the autumn and giving Mrs Mosquito his genes the males have fulfilled their biological calling and, having only just met ‘the one’, are left to die alone peacefully after only around a week’s existence.

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These strong, independent, biting female brutes, mainly of the Anopheles, Culex and Culiseta varieties, become inactive in the winter months as they prefer warm climates (Sounds similar to me really…). Not looking to brave the chill they seek dark and damp places that are protected from the harsh weather and enter a hibernation state called diapause.

We may find them in hollow logs, underneath piles of leaves or within animal burrows slowly plotting who will be their next victim. Or if they have chosen to live rent free in our homes they hide in cellars, attics and basements or amongst boxes or other junk.

As soon as the snow has melted (here’s hope for a white Christmas!) and the sun has come out they emerge after winter, hungry to find their first blood meal in a long while. This explains the aggressive and vicious nature of the feisty females at this time of the year as they are fed-up, hungry and are seeking to feed so that they may lay their eggs in any form of standing water nearby as soon as possible before they die.

Therefore, in the new year when windows start to be thrust open to welcome engaging sunshine make sure you have your incognito® room refresher at the ready to shield these unwelcome (or welcomed generally but maybe not in the kitchen…) insects from coming in so they are forced to find food elsewhere!

Tom Richardson

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