New beekeepers (and some of us old ones) worry when we see ‘lots’ of bees in the snow during winter. The black dots (above) are frozen stiffs – bees that left their hive and didn’t make it back. To me, this is a really sad sight, but not a disturbing one.
If we assume that northern hemisphere honey bee colonies drop their populations from 30,000 bees in late October to 15,000 in late February, that’s over one hundred dead bees every day. We’d much rather see them outside the hive than piled up on the bottom board. One might argue that the dead bees in front of the hive might have lived all winter. Perhaps they were otherwise healthy bees looking for winter flowers. That’s possible. It’s also possible that these were weakly bees taking cleansing flights (honey bees will not defecate inside their hive unless the entire colony is weak and dying). The poor insects were not strong enough to make it home after visiting the bushes.
Regardless the cause, a few dozen bees in the snow does not generally mean trouble for the wintering colony. More worrisome is a prolonged cold spell (Calgary, where these colonies live in my backyard, is at the beginning of two weeks of minus 20s). When it’s especially cold, the bees don’t even try to fly out to exercise their monthly constitution. That’s when we should worry.