Nature on our doorstep: Hibernating Queens

Nature on our doorstep: Hibernating Queens

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures.

The recent frosty weather will have hastened the end for the last of the worker wasps and bumblebees.

What you might continue to see, particularly on milder sunnier days well into November and even early December, are the larger queen wasps and bumblebees.

Colourful cyclamens (L) and sweet-smelling mahonia (R), loved by bumblebees

You will know these to be queens by their relatively large and impressive size!

Honey bees overwinter as a hive colony, feeding on their honey store. With wasps and bumblebees, only fertilised queens overwinter.

A queen will seek out a suitable hibernation shelter such as an abandoned mouse-hole and will hide away by herself, protected from the harsh winter weather.

Before hibernating, the queen must eat as much pollen and nectar as possible.

This store of fat energy must see her through the winter. During milder periods, however, they may stir themselves to come out and search for food.

This is a risky business as very few flowers bloom in winter.

If she uses up too much valuable energy searching and then doesn’t feed, the queen may not survive until spring.

Winter-flowering heathers and shrubs such as Mahonia, as well as flowers like Cyclamens and early spring bulbs, are therefore very welcome food sources for the queens.

They also brighten the dark days of winter for us too.