Winter has finally arrived in New York (and the rest of the Northeast). It is hard to imagine how bees – animals that love sun and warmth – are able to survive the cold northern hemisphere winter. Do they go south and spend the winter on a sunny beach in Florida? Or do they stick it out (like us humans) hunkered down at home?

The only bees that have the luxury of a winter vacation in Florida are the managed honey bees (Apis mellifera). Many of the migratory (mobile) bee colonies that are commercially managed in the US migrate to warmer places in the winter. This can be a strategy for reducing colony mortality over the winter months, which can be as high as 40% in some years.

In contrast, the wild (non-managed) bees that are so important to apple pollination need to stick it out up here, in chilly upstate NY. No Florida vacations for the native solitary and social bees that we described in our last blog post. These bees, in contrast to honey bees, enter an extended diapause over the winter. Bumble bee queens, for example, mate in the Fall and then find a sheltered cavity in a wood pile, old stone wall, or mouse burrow to wait out the winter months. Bumblebee queens are enormous, with extensive fat reserves to carry them through the winter and to fuel their early spring nest searching.

Most solitary, ground-nesting bees (such as Andrena, Halictus, Agapostemon, Lasioglossum, and Colletes) are in their underground nests in a similar state of diapause. Their metabolic rates have dropped and they are in a state of suspended animation within the underground brood cells produced by their mother.

Stem and cavity nesting bees (such as mason bees and leaf cutter bees; Osmia and Megachile) are in a similar state of suspended animation (diapause), but their nests are above ground and hence experience even more dramatic shifts in temperature than those overwintering in the ground. Wood-boring carpenter bees (such as Xylocopa) remain within their mother’s nest and hunker down with their siblings to pass the cold winter months.

As an apple grower, you can rest assured that, even as the cold winds of February blow, the hard-working solitary bees are still here, spending the winter literally under our noses. Overwintering as an adult means that they are ready to emerge as soon as the weather warms up and the early spring flowers start to bloom. Think of these bees as the Punxsutawney Phils of the insect world – ready to emerge from the ground when conditions look right. But they still have a few more months of restful diapause before spring arrives in this part of the world.