The month of February is Spring-in-waiting. Even though it can often be savagely cold with snow and ice, we sometimes get a glimpse of the warm weather to come with the odd calm and sunny day. On these days with the temperature above 5C, we will often see a few Honeybees leaving the hives on a short flight collecting water or depositing any dead bees or mess away from the colony. Unlike other flying insects, Honeybees are active all year round but stay inside the hive in winter feeding off the honey and pollen collected and stored during the previous spring and summer.
The 5-8000 worker bees look after the Queen, keeping her warm, fed and healthy so that she can continue to lay eggs throughout all but the coldest parts of winter, replacing those bees that have died. It takes 21 days for an egg laid in a cell to emerge as an adult worker ready to immediately start various tasks around the hive. It's a further three weeks before workers can begin to fly out and forage, so it's now, in February, that the Queen rapidly increases her rate of egg-laying in anticipation of the start of spring and the emergence of the early spring blooms in March and April. This natural process ensures there is a new generation of workers preparedready to harvest and replenish the colony's food stores through the spring and summer.
Bumblebee Queen foraging from a Crocus flower
Later in February, we in the South of England will start to see the first Bumblebee Queens flying close to the ground, looking for a suitable site to create a new nest. These relatively big bees have dense hairs that keep them warm and able to fly in lower temperatures than other insects.
Meanwhile, their solitary bee cousins will remain in hibernation until much later in the spring, starting to emerge when day temperatures reach an average of around 10C, and their primary food sources are in flower.
In the meantime, on behalf of our precious pollinators, let's hope for a short sharp winter and a mild, calm spring.