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When do Bees Come Out?

Bees – winged pollinators that are a common sight buzzing through the warm Summer breeze.  However, if you live in a temperate region that experiences cold months, you already know that they are not active all year. Perhaps you miss the friendly buzz and wonder when do bees come out to start their year?

Bee Season Varies

First honey bees to appear in springtime on white flower image.

Of course, we must remember that the term “bees” covers a very wide variety of insect life.  Among the thousands of species, each one has its own natural habitat and way of life.

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Therefore, we would expect a lot of variation in determining when a certain species will make a daily appearance. Some of them are more cold hardy than others. So daytime temperatures do play a role in their lives.

Bees That Come Out of Hibernation

First, lets consider bees that hibernate.  This includes a lot of solitary insects.  Members of this group live alone and raise young on their own. A single mother creates and tends a nest. She does not have a work force to help feed young..

Others, begin the family with a mated female too. But, she rears more females to assist in taking care of young and finding food..

These include familiar insects such as:  Bumble Bees, Carpenter Bees, and some insects that are not bees at all. 

I am referring to the wasp family – those lovely Yellow Jacket Wasps that are so common in my area. They do not maintain a nest all Winter – only the queen survives. The reproductive females hibernate during Winter.  Each spring the she starts a new nest on her own.

Bumble bee on spring flower image.

Insects – including my favorite Honey Bees, are cold blooded beings.  They can not survive when the temperatures are very low.  And, the air temperature must be even higher for bees to fly and forage for food.

Depending on where you live, most insects including Bumble bees will make an appearance sometime in March. You will see them flying, especially on warmish afternoon.

They can forage in air temperatures a bit below 50° F.  Much lower than that and they are unable to raise their flight muscles to the proper temperature.

A Yellow Jacket queen also becomes active once warm Spring days arrive.  She begins to forage and build a nest around the month of April.  These nests are often in the ground and you may not notice the nests until late Summer.

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That is the time when the nests become very large and are a hindrance to people and animals.  This is why some homeowners buy traps or build their own yellow jacket traps to try to capture the queens early in the season.

Honey Bees do Not Hibernate

Unlike the Bumbles and yellow jackets wasps honey bees do not hibernate.  The whole colony lives together inside the hive during Winter.

Clustered together, the bee colony eats stored honey and pollen and generates enough heat to sustain life during the cold days. 

Full honey bee colony in a beehive image.

Because they are not in a true state of hibernation, they will come out and fly on warm Winter days if temperature allows.

Once the air temperature gets above 60°F, the colony become much more active.  You will see many workers coming out to forage and collect resources needed by the hive.

Most Active Bee Season

Most types of bees and other insects are active by the month of April.  Their activities include foraging for food, protecting their nest and raising a new generation of young.

The individual activities vary of course depending on the the species.  However, most bees do not forage on cool rainy days.  Even if the temperatures are not too low, the effort of flying and gathering food is not worth it. Imagine how large a falling raindrop must seem to a small bee.

This is true for windy days as well.  Honey bees have a special part of their anatomy to gauge wind speed – their antenna.  If the wind becomes too strong, they stay home and rest – perhaps they take a nap.

Most Active Time of Day

Regardless of the month of the year, you will find that insects are most active around mid-day to late afternoon.  This is the warmest part of the day and when most flowers have produced their nectar for the day.

As evening approaches, more foragers will begin to assemble back at the hive.  This is true for Yellow Jacket Wasps as well, most return to the nest at night.

Honey Bee Colonies

Honey bees live in large social families called colonies.  Their home is often called a beehive. Inside, thousands of individuals work to carry on the necessary tasks for colony life.

Because of their ability to produce large amounts of honey, beekeepers have a true “bee season”.  This generally lasts from February/March to September/October. During these warm months, beekeepers manage their colonies and prepare them for the time of abundant nectar – a honey flow.

After the Spring excitement of watching for bee swarms, hopefully, the colonies grow and become productive.

Honey harvesting is a Summer project.  Some people think that honey is harvested all year but this is not the case in most locations.

Mated Yellow jacket queen preparing for Winter time image.

Transitioning into the Inactive Season for Bees

As Fall transitions into Winter, honey bees, bumbles and others will be getting ready for winter. Those that hibernate are busy insuring that queens are mated and ready for Winter. In these families, those workers will die once cold arrives.

The mated queens survive Winter by hibernating under garden debris. They  are ready to begin their life anew when warm weather arrives.

And yes, I included yellow jacket wasps in this article not because they are bees – they are not. However, the general public often considers them to belong to the bee family.

For honey bees, this means storing honey and pollen inside the hive.  Colony population will slowly drop as bees “hunker down” to survive Winter. Winter beekeeping tasks are must less than during the warm months.

Sharing the World with Bees

Even though they are important parts of the ecosystem, not everyone is a big fan of these stinging insects. That’s okay. Perhaps you have a full blown case of apiphobia? Or, you may just not want to get too up-close and personal with a honey bee.

That’s cool. You can still share the world with these beneficial insects. Choose an area of the garden for plants that repel bees or at least are not attracting more into the area. And yes, sometimes for public safety you may need to employ some tactics to keep bees away.

While we may not always see bees active in our daily lives, they are out there.  Whether busy working or waiting for next year, bee life continues.  At the proper time of year for the specific species, bees will come out and begin anew.

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