When do Bees Come Out?

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If the cold months of the year have you missing the friendly buzz of bees, you might wonder – when do bees come out? If you live in a temperate region that experiences cold months, you already know that bees are not active all year. They have different methods of surviving the Winter and beginning again when Spring arrives. This timing depends in part on the type of insect we are talking about.

First honey bees to appear in springtime on white flower.

The term “bees” covers a very wide variety of insect life -each one has its own natural habitat and way of life. Even among true bees, such as honey bees vs bumble bees you will find lifestyle and foraging differences.

When is Bee Season?

Therefore, we would expect a lot of variation in determining when a certain species will make a daily appearance.

The actual calendar date of “bee season” changes a bit due to the region where you live and the specific insect in question.

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 that live alone and raise young on their own. A single mother creates and provisions a nest. She does not have a work force to help feed young.

But, you will also find some social insects in this hibernation group. They begin the family unit with only a mated female.

After nest building, the queen rears more females to assist in taking care of young and finding food. These include familiar insects such as: Bumble Bees and Carpenter Bees.

Wasps

And, some of the insects that we often refer to as bees are not true bees. I am referring to the wasp family – those lovely Yellow Jacket Wasps that are so common in my area. Important members of the insect world but troublesome in your yard.

They do not maintain a nest all Winter – only the queen survives to begin next Spring. The other colony members die when the weather turns cold.

Bumble bee on early Spring flower and yellow jacket wasp.

First Appearance

The colder months of the year are not completely devoid of insect activity. Some bees will be out looking for resources when the daily temperatures allow.

Honey Bees

Honey bees are cold-blooded insects but their survival plan is a bit different than others. They are able to survive clustered together inside the hive during the cold months consuming food that was stored during the previous season.

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They can not survive when the temperatures are very low. If the colony runs out of honey, they will die. Also, the air temperature must be elevated a bit for bees to fly and forage for food.

Yet because they are active all Winter (inside the beehive), you may see a few honey bees out and about on any warm Winter day.

Foraging in Cooler Temperatures

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 afternoons with mid 50°F temperatures.

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

A Yellow Jacket Wasp queen also becomes active once warm Spring days arrive. She begins to forage and build a nest around the month of April. 

One difference between honey bees and yellow jacket wasps, is that the wasps forage in cooler temps – earlier in the morning and later in the day.

Their nests are often in the ground but they are very small at first. This is why you may not notice the nests until late Summer. That is the time when the nests become very large and are a hindrance to people and animals. 

For this reason, some homeowners buy traps or build their own yellow jacket traps to try to capture the queens early in the season.

Full honey bee colony in a beehive image.

Honey Bees do Not Hibernate

Unlike the Bumbles and wasps honey bees do not hibernate. Instead, honey bees survive Winter as a family unit.

As they move very close together to form a winter cluster, the colony eats stored honey and pollen and generates enough heat to sustain life during the cold days. 

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.

As the days grow longer, activity in a honey bee colony ramps up. Male bees (drones) and maybe even new queens will be produced as the bees prepare for the Spring bloom.

Most Active Time of Year for Insects

Most bee species 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 foraging bees do not work outside on cool rainy days and the Spring season tends to have some of those. 

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. 

But, if the wind becomes too strong, they stay home and rest – perhaps they sleep – a little bee 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.

In fact, late evening is a good time to observe an area if you think a nest might be present. Those yellow bodies coming in for the night are easier to see.

Bee Season for Beekeepers

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.

Managed colonies are taken care of by beekeepers. If you are a beekeeper, you have a true “bee season” during which you manage your colonies. This generally lasts from February/March to September/October.

During these warm months, beekeepers tend 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. Most beekeepers try to limit swarming behavior – they would rather their hives make honey.

Honey harvesting is a Summer project. Some people think that honey is harvested all year but this is not the case in most locations. As the warm months draw to an end, beekeepers do the necessary tasks to winterize their beehives.

Bumble bee, honey bee and yellow jacket queen bee active on flowers.

Transitioning into the Inactive Season

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.

These queens survive Winter by hibernating under garden debris. They  are ready to begin their life anew when warm weather arrives. On a warmish Winter day, the bumble bee queen may nourish herself on a Winter blooming flower.

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 much less the time of year.

Sharing the Outdoors During Bee Season

Not everyone is a big fan of stinging insects, that’s okay. Perhaps you have a full blown case of apiphobia or severe fear? 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. You don’t have to avoid having pretty flowers in the yard. 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. Either way, you don’t have to spend the whole summer locked up inside the house.

FAQs

When are bees most active?

Bees are very active during the seasons of Spring, Summer and Fall. The actual calendar months varies due to your climate.

How do bees know when to come out?

Most bees use the outside temperature as a guide for when it is safe to forage outside. As temps rise from the upper 50’s to about 60, bee activity increases.

Do all bees hibernate?

No, honey bees do not hibernate. They cluster together as a mass and stay inside the hive living off the honey they have stored.

Final Thoughts

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

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