Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?

Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?

Where did all the bees go? The past few weeks have really seen life outside start to quiet down. Birds have for the most part passed through on their migration, others that plan to stay here for winter are hunkering down, and it’s hard to come by butterflies fluttering through the landscape. The bees have seemingly disappeared too…but where have they gone?

They're actually closer than you think.

Right now, one of the most common places to find bees is right under your feet! Unlike famous migrators like sandhill cranes and monarch butterflies, bees typically stay in place to wait out the winter. There are over 400 native bee species in Illinois and they each have a unique manner of nesting to stay safe in cold winter temperatures and ensure the success of next season’s colony. Our native bees get quite creative with nesting locations- they’ll take advantage of sunny bare patches of soil to make underground burrows, make use of hollow plant stems, live and dead wood, or even rock crevices. 🐝 

What can you do in your garden to provide habitat for overwintering bees?
  1. Leave your leaf litter as much as possible. We may be starting to sound like a broken record, but the leaf litter is a habitat hotspot for many of our native pollinator species. Leaving leaves whole in the garden wherever you can is one of the best things you can do in your landscape.
  2. Offer a variety of nesting opportunities. Include features in your garden like bare soil, plant stems, small rock stacks, and woody material like sticks or dead wood.
  3. Plant native plants that will offer resources in the earliest of spring and latest of fall. Bees need provisions by means of nectar and pollen at these critical times in their life cycle to fuel their colony through the year.

Pictured above: what we really think the bees are doing below our feet...
 ...hopefully getting some well-earned rest 😌
—Illustration by Nicki Achor.

Want to learn more about how beneficial insects use your yard? Check out our gardening classes.

This is what a bumblebee nest actually looks like! Photo credits given to Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
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