At Savannah Bee we are frequently asked how honeybees manage hive temperatures during hot summer months. Although bees are tolerant of temperatures well into the mid-nineties, they really do not like it much hotter.
For resources or conditions such as light availability, water availability, and temperature all species have an optimal zone or range. At both ends of this optimal zone (high and low) the species will begin to exhibit stress. Take temperature for example, if the temperature is either too high or too low a species will have difficulty surviving.
The honeybee is no different in terms of optimal zone behavior. In the summer, water availability and temperature are both very important conditions for beekeepers to consider and monitor closely. Around 95⁰F is the optimal zone hive temperature threshold for the sensitive honeybee. As temperatures exceed this threshold the bees will begin to exhibit some very interesting behaviors in order to keep the hive cool.
Honeybees will begin collecting water which they bring back to the hive to cool inside spaces. This process works in a similar way to our bodies sweating on hot days. This technique is called evaporative cooling. As the water or the sweat evaporates, heat dissipates lowering temperatures. Worker bees will spend their days fanning water droplets to increase the evaporation rate and create air circulation.
Honeybees, like Savannah folk, will retire to the porch if it gets too hot inside. This interesting honeybee behavior is known as “bearding.” Honeybees will cluster densely around the hive opening and fan themselves, again much like Savannah folk. These bee clusters can often become so tight and dense that they hang off the hive landing board in the shape of a long beard.
During the hot summer months, it is important to consider both location of your hive and proximity to a fresh water source. A partial shade location can offer the hive a great deal of relief and the addition of sprinklers, misters, or even a birdbath to the apiary will help keep the colony fresh and cool!