Bees in winter

Bees are still out there even when the flowers are gone. Where are they?

Many of the bees we saw visiting flowers this summer have died, but their offspring will make it through the winter.  Young bees from eggs laid this summer have finished eating their pollen and nectar and have now entered a dormant phase for the winter. These young bees are still in their nests, whether that is in a hollow stem (such as in the the photo of this nest bundle), a tunnel in wood or underground chambers. In spring when the weather warms, the bees will finish developing and come out to visit our flowers again.

Sometimes offspring overwinter as adults, as in the case of bumble bees. Before the workers and old queens die in fall, bumble bee colonies produce new queens and males. These mate and the males die, but the young queens burrow underground or in other safe places where they stay dormant until spring. In the snowy photo, the stake marks the location of an underground queen. When the weather warms they emerge to begin new colonies.

bee nest tunnel in old pithy raspberry stem

To help overwintering bees, you can leave leaf litter in garden beds to provide hiding places and leave plant stems standing if they may contain nests. Bees nest in dead stems that are cut on the top, as in the picture of this raspberry cane. So only stems that were dead in the summer might contain nests. Plants that grew in 2021 and died in fall can make nest sites for bees in 2022.

As we are cozy in our own houses for winter we can remember the bees and look forward to spending time watching flowers and counting bees with WiBee next year!