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Q: Where do bees and wasps go during the winter? Do the adults die off while larvae live in the honeycombs? Or do they migrate?

A: Colonial insects, including honeybees, bumblebees, paper wasps and yellow jackets, have one queen and many workers, said Phil Pellitteri, a distinguished faculty associate in the department of entomology at UW-Madison. “Honeybees are the only species that overwinters as a colony; they don’t go dormant and have to generate enough heat to live, so they need a minimum population of bees and plenty of honey, their energy source.”

In winter, honeybees generate heat with their muscles while vibrating their wings, Pellitteri said. “If they don’t have enough honey, they will run out of food and starve to death, so if beekeepers rob too much honey, the bees won’t survive.”

Honeybees form a ball inside the colony, and then rotate from the warmer center to the colder perimeter.

Bumblebees, paper wasps and yellow jackets use a different strategy, Pellitteri said. “In the fall, they produce males for the first time — all from unfertilized eggs — and raise a new queen. The new queen emerges, mates and crawls under a rock or inside tree bark to spend the winter in a form of hibernation.”

Diapause, or hibernation, is a smart choice, said Pellitteri. “Were she active, the bee would burn through her stored food and starve.”

— Provided in cooperation with UW Communications

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