Texas worker bees were hive heroines during extreme Winter Storm Uri.
The US Department of Agriculture has been surveying Texas beekeepers in an effort to discover how Winter Storm Uri impacted bees and hives. So far, reports of damage have been limited.
An expert from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reported there were bee die-offs, with total hive losses limited mainly to worker bees that balled themselves up along the outer edges of the hive to insulate it from the cold.
Wow… these worker honey bees leave us speechless in their selfless devotion to their queen, baby bees and hive mates... in their dedication to ensure that the hive will survive.
Certain worker bees selflessly positioned themselves in the coldest areas to try to prevent the icy cold from entering the hive and making the inner temperature drop to a life-threatening degree.
As long as the queen bee survived, along with enough worker bees, her hive should recover and go on. Even though the freeze is already history, the challenges for honeybees continue.
This 12:36-minute video by Daddykirbs Farm - A Homesteading Story gives us a firsthand report about how the bees fared during the winter storm in Texas:
Following the storm, many Texas people had a hard time finding food. Store shelves were empty. The bees are facing the same dilemma. The storm happened at a time of year that is notoriously sparse of flowers for emerging bees, so there can be food struggles. The storm made it much worse, so bees are in a perilous and critical time ever since.
According to experts, early blooming flowers were wiped out by the freeze and the blooming of wildflowers is behind schedule after the freeze. Harm caused by the storm wasn’t just direct death so much as survival foraging issues.
Beehives that survived may need more supplemental food from beekeepers than would be usual if they are to eventually thrive this season.
The hives that were worst hit by the freeze were the smaller and stressed hives, because they didn’t have the numbers of bees needed to generate enough warmth to survive, so they were more susceptible.
A freeze can be very dangerous for bees, but a large healthy hive can generate enough heat to regulate the temperature to survive the cold weather. Instinctively they form a ball to stay warm, with their queen and baby bees at the center.
In many parts of the world freezing, icy, snowy, weather is expected at certain times of year and beekeepers are able to prepare their hives and honeybees to withstand it to the best of their ability.
Not so in Texas, where an extreme winter storm from February 13-17, 2021 with temperatures around 0°F (-17.78°C) rolled through much of Texas. A record low temperature reading at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on February 16 was -2°F (-19°C). Winter Storm Uri, as it is known, was felt all across Texas.
It is almost a miracle that most Texas beekeepers avoided losing most of their hives. Nevertheless, honeybees may need extra care and observation this season following such historic and extreme low temperatures.
Managed honeybees have hives and beekeepers, but wild native bees like bumblebees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and many other types of solitary bees were also impacted by the winter storm and are trying to survive on their own. It’s a good thing that nature is resilient and greenery is coming back fast now.
It remains to be seen how much honey will be produced this year, depending on how well the wildflowers and flowers come back and bloom. Many beekeepers are nervous, as this adds to all the other uncertainties they encounter even without an unexpected and unprecedented freeze.
Last year, according to the annual report by the Bee Informed Partnership, US beekeepers reported losing over 40% of their honeybee colonies. In Texas the loss was a staggering 55%. So it is easy to see why Texas beekeepers are holding their breath and hoping for a good floral comeback and healthy hives.