Bumble bees hibernate, honey bees do not
Although honey bees and bumble bees are closely related, their winter behavior is very different.
A colony of honey bees will live throughout the entire winter, actively keeping the nest warm and safe. Although a winter colony is much smaller than a summer colony, it will nevertheless contain thousands of individuals. They eat and work all winter long–activity which requires a large cache of stored food.
Bumble bees do not maintain colonies throughout the winter. Instead, the last brood of the summer colony will contain a number of queens. Each of these queens will mate and then find a nest in which to overwinter. She alone will hibernate until spring.
While the bumble bee queen hibernates she is neither eating nor working. Her depressed rate of metabolism allows her to live for long periods while burning very little fuel.
In the spring, she must work hard. She begins by finding a suitable nesting spot. Next she builds a “honey pot” from wax and will use it to hold a small store of honey. She will also collect pollen, and make a pile of pollen mixed with honey called “bee bread.”
Here is where it gets weird. Much like a chicken, the queen bumble bee will lay her eggs on the pollen and then sit on them to keep them warm. During the development of the young bumble bees, the queen will eat the honey she stored in her pot.
The first batch of young bees will be mostly workers—bees who can take over the household chores and foraging while the queen continues to lay eggs. Later in the season, she will lay some eggs that become queens and drones. These bees will be the ones that are responsible for the next generation.
This life cycle is found in bumble bees throughout the temperate regions of the world. Some tropical bumble bees may have small colonies that survive for several years since there is no need to hibernate.