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It's that time of year

Acutally, this video was taken a little over a month ago so it is a bit past that time of year. During late summer/early fall, honey bee hives prepare for the winter by kicking out the males (a.k.a. drones). In this video, you can see the smaller (female) worker forcefully removing a larger (male) drone from the hive. Kicking the drones out into the cold may seem cruel but it's all for the good of the hive--drones are pretty lazy.

The only purpose drones serve in the hive is mating with queens from other hives and passing on their genes (check out Isabella Rossellini's highly informative "Green Porno" for more information on honey bee mating). Although mating is really important--it's the only way the species can continue--once mating season (spring, sometimes a little bit of summer) is over, the drones just hang out in the hive and do nothing but eat. Honey. Lots and lots of honey.

The lazy drones are especially problematic in the wintertime. If the workers kept the drones around for the winter, it would be a waste of energy and space--the drones would eat all the worker's hard earned honey and not help with any of the overwintering work. (Reminds me of The Little Red Hen.)

As it is, the worker bees need all the honey they can make (at least 90 lbs!) to last the winter. During the winter, the remaining worker bees make a cluster around the queen bee and actively keep the cluster (and surrounding hive) warm by shivering (see cool thermal images of this behavior here!). Like Emperor Penguins, the bees will periodically rotate--the outside bees will eventually get a chance to be in the warm middle of the cluster.

During this time period, the worker bees need to eat honey to keep their energy up. Once spring hits and the outside temperature starts to warm up, the cluster will break, the foragers will replenish the food stores, and the queen will being to move around the hive and lay eggs (more drones just in time for mating season!).

Fun fact about overwintering bees: they are reluctant to go to the bathroom in their hive (they're very clean!). On a warm winter day, a beekeeper may look at the snow surrounding his/her hive in hopes of finding little yellowish-brown spots--a sign of a healthy hive!

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