I keep mason bees. They sleep in cardboard tubes all winter long. I worry about my little bees until I see them chew out of their nesting tubes in the spring.
I talked about how mason bees and all kinds of bees survive winter with my friend Brandon Hopkins. He’s an insect scientist at Washington State University. He manages the honey bees on campus.
The honey bees we see in North America today first arrived with Europeans in the 1600s. We love honey bees because they pollinate our crops and make delicious honey. But there are lots of bees that have always lived here—like bumble bees, squash bees and mason bees. Those are native bees.
Most native bees survive the cold by overwintering in the nests where they were born. That could be tucked into the soil or leafy debris. It could be nestled inside hollow plant stems, holes in wood or tubes like my mason bees. Some native bees like bumble bees live in colonies. Only the queen survives the winter. She digs into the earth or finds a hollow tree and hibernates there.
When bees make hexagons in their hives, the six-sided shapes fit together perfectly. In fact, we’ve actually never seen bees make any other shape. That’s what I found out when I visited my friend Sue Cobey, a bee researcher at Washington State University.
Cobey showed me some honeycombs where the female bees live and work. Hexagons are useful shapes. They can hold the queen bee’s eggs and store the pollen and honey the worker bees bring to the hive.
When you think about it, making circles wouldn’t work too well. It would leave gaps in the honeycomb. The worker bees could use triangles or squares for storage. Those wouldn’t leave gaps. But the hexagon is the strongest, most useful shape.