Winter Bee / Summer Bee

Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum

Help Support Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Field Bee
Mar 5, 2010
Reaction score
Hive Type
I got to thinking (I know, be careful...) about the winter bee development and the big freeze. A question:

Do winter bees evolve as winter bees per se, as I have been led to believe or is there (also?) a gradual change from the activity of the six week forager, extending into the winter season (for as long as the bee is viable, in its tired state)?

Bees hatching now will be conditioned according to the wintry conditions but what about hitherto busy foragers who are starting to feel the cold? Do they slow down metabolically and enjoy a bit of 'chilling' or are they destined to the six week(ish) expiry?

I had learned somewhere that winter bees are different in that they carry more fat reserves, though I find that hard to accept (visions of obese bees languishing about). After all, where would they get the fat from?

I'd have a look in Hooper but I'm at work and thought I'd throw it into the forum for debate....

Isn't it remarkable?
winter bees are physiologically more akin to nurse bees and yes they do have more internal stores - see picture below (keller 2005) taken from

Emerging bees stock up on food but as they have little or no brood to feed and no wax to build they store it as vitellogenin (like egg yolk!) in their fat bodies.

Same process allows nurse bees to survive extended queenless periods over summer whilst still being ready to feed new brood. Foragers don't "revert".
They key is winter bees do not nurse brood. Children shorten your life!

This is also my understanding. There's no difference in the bees themselves when born its just that winter bees havent depleted theit fat stores through nursing bees and lifespan is inversely related to hypopharangeal gland activity
Typical fat nurses! - sitting around doing nothing for the whole shift apart from reaching into the quality street tin whilst writing "doctor informed" in the notes.
There is a research which have examined how late brooding affects to the cluster size.

Even if the hive makes late brood and it may have more bees in early autumn, feeding bees will die and the final winter cluster will be same size as the hive which stopped earlier.

To the wellfare of wintering bees eaten pollen has a big influence.
When last bees emerge, they need lots of pollen stores that they will be in winter shape in the cluster.
During the first 5 or 6 days of adult life, worker bees consume large amounts of pollen to obtain the protein and amino acids required to complete their growth and development. If young adult worker bees do not consume needed proteins, their hypopharyngeal glands (brood food glands) will not develop completely, and their royal jelly will not support normal growth and development of worker larvae or egg production in the adult queen. The requirement for protein decreases when worker bees discontinue nursing (between 10th to 14th day of adult life). Subsequently, the chief dietary constituent becomes carbohydrates obtained from nectars and honey.
Typical fat nurses! - sitting around doing nothing for the whole shift apart from reaching into the quality street tin whilst writing "doctor informed" in the notes.

OMFG how TF you dare to say that - swanning around too busy too busy, ya ya ya. Smoking rollies, hiding in corridors, ignoring bleeps, strolling in seconds before death looking rumpled and half asleep throwing your tempers about. Drunk as lords. Bring back matrons, that would sort you lot out. Whats the old joke:

St Peter standing at the gates, people queuing off into the mist. Suddenly a bloke dressed in a white coat wearing a stethoscope, storms past shoving people out of the way, through the gates and off into the distance. St Peter just rolls his eyes and the crowd kick off. "its ok its ok he says, he wasnt pushing in. That was God, just sometimes he likes to think he's a DR".

And you're no stranger to a quality street, or a celebrations are ya.

Ex Nurse.:boxing_smiley:
They didn't have Celebrations in my day - just QS or Roses!!!!!!! (and all eaten on the hoof NOT sat doing the "off duty")
Finman - that's a really informative link, thanks. Many interesting aspects in there - for example, is it routine to supplement pollen patties with vitamins? I would imagine that this would be a sensible precaution as it is stated that vitamins are a key component. A quick google reveals that certain recipes advocate vit C. Food for thought (or at least, brood rearing).
I would imagine that this would be a sensible precaution as it is stated that vitamins are a key component. .

I have examined all reports about bee nutrition. I many places there said that bees need vitamins but nowhere it is said what and how much. I have used for 3 kg patty one multivitamin pill and 50 mg ascorbin acid (c-vit). 3 kg bees consume 500 g patty in 7 days.
Hi Finman. The study that you posted includes a list of vitamins (largely based on the 'B' complex (no pun intended)) and a dose of 'C' thrown in. It also mentions several minerals and various amino acids. I wonder how definitive that research was?

Clearly, your pollen patties have been 'full of goodness'!

I'm aware that this debate could veer down the 'when is a supplement not a supplement?' route. I for one will avoid that particular 'curate's egg' :)
6 years ago I made 6 nucs and I heated them with electrict and fede with pollen patteis. The nucs rised very quickly , about 3 times quicker than natural nucs. That was in August. For autumn I stopped the feeding and >I hade each box full of bees.

But during winter every nuc wintered very badly. They hardly were alive in spring. They got nosema and losses were big. I suppose that pollen patty was not good enough to produce wintering bees. When the last bees emerge, they need too protein and you cannot stop feeding like that. After that I have not tried boost them for winter. I should have pollen frames to give to nucs that they have natural food pollen for winter.

In spring I feed them so that when new bees start to emerge, they get fresh willow pollen. In our April, when do not get pollen from nature Italian bees are not able to rear new brood. Carniolan has good pollen stores and they are able to make a good spring build up.

I have declared this many times on this forum but folks do not understand the idea. The temperature of springs means as brooding limiting factor above all the night temperture. Very few understand this, perhaps none.
I think I see it. I would imagine that there is a critical period of pollen availability that may influence the overall health and development of the colony, as the viability of an 'explosion' of early spring brood depends on pollen stores having been carried through the winter and/ or being readily available as forage at that critical time. No pollen (or insufficient/ inadequate pollen) = weak or no brood = pollen depletion = weak or no brood = ..... (?)

Latest posts