Summer bee / winter bee picture

Below is a drawing I did showing the difference between a winter and a summer bee’s abdomen. The colours are for fun and to show the different parts more distinctly, obviously the bee is not really pink, blue and yellow inside!

In the summer, you can see the bee’s crop, her nectar collecting stomach, is enlarged. In the winter, when a bee has been stuck inside the hive for several days due to cold weather, waste builds up in her rectum – that’s the big pink shape – and the rectum enlarges to take up nearly the whole abdomen. A bee will never deliberately defecate within its home, so if you see brown trails of poop on the combs you know something is really wrong.

Summer bee/winter bee abdomens

The ventriculus is the light blue segmented shape you can see. It’s the main digestive organ of the bee. In the summer bee’s abdomen it has plenty of space, in the winter bee’s abdomen it has been pushed right up as the rectum enlarged.

The white worm-like shapes you can see are the malpighian tubules. About a hundred of these connect into the digestive system, joining the gut at the junction between the ventriculus and the small intestine. The small intestine is the light pink curl leading into the rectum. The malpighian tubules absorb waste products excreted by the various organs into the bee’s haemolymph (the equivalent of our blood) and pass them into the small intestine for disposal.

It seems so clever to me that a bee’s organs can move around that much to accommodate the different lifestyles of a summer and a winter bee.


  • Understanding bee anatomy: a full colour guide by Ian Stell (The Catford Press, 2012)

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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41 Responses to Summer bee / winter bee picture

  1. disperser says:

    Hmm . . . I wonder if that happens to politicians, as well?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. thebigbuzz says:

    Well, I learn something new every day! This is definitely not something I shall forget in a hurry, Emily …


  3. Erik says:

    Great visualization, Emily. I’ve seen this mentioned but this illustration really drives home the point. I suppose the winter bee suffers from a full rectum, while the summer bee suffers from never-ending foraging.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Yes – take your pick which is worse. The summer bee gets to smell the beautiful aroma of flowers, but she works herself to death doing it. The winter bee gets to sit around eating honey all day, but is cooped up inside for days at a time trying her best to stay warm.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. beatingthebounds says:

    Endlessly fascinating these bees.


  5. donna213 says:

    This is really interesting information. You did nice work illustrating and explaining. I at one time wanted to be a medical illustrator, but am glad I took another road of travel.


  6. Jonathan Harding says:

    Graphic illustrations Emily, no wonder that our clean washing drying in the spring sun often get big brown spots when that lot lets go! I have known it to be blamed on the aircraft !!
    We are meant to wonder at the pragmatic design for these special overwintering insects, I also wonder at the complex language and how an ordinary fertile worker egg if fed on more royal jelly can turn into a queen with a different body.
    Have enjoyed the apt political satire as well!
    I blame the Society’s winter bodystate on:-
    Lack of exercise through playing fields being built over, too many fast food outlets close by and consuming too much rubbish on the box. I blame the parents too ,the father was a layabout on benefits and the mother never helped any body, just produced thousands of kids. I can only hope that some of these kids get a productive summer job and give something back to Society.
    Intriguingly disgusted of Cuckfield


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Jonathan, yes considering the absent fathers and the permanent sugar rush they must be getting it’s amazing our ladies are so well behaved. In the winter they turn to gorging on comfort food as there’s a lack of local youth clubs and bee TV hasn’t been invented yet.


  7. P&B says:

    Great information Emily. Thank you. Imagine if we have to hold our waste in for a couple of months!


  8. Grower says:

    Great drawings and very instructive. I’d never even thought about how they manage to hold it for so long before. By the way, when they finally did get out and fly this year for the first time they made a heck of a mess on our car and a run through the car wash didn’t take it off.


  9. nicky leeth says:

    Sat. 21 Mar 2015 Mod 5 exam: The difference between winter and summer bees was in Part C and formed a 10 mark section , the other part of that question for the other 20 marks was :- Identify the differences between laying workers and ordinary workers. Explain why these differences occur.


    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Nicky. Sound like interesting questions, not too tricky. I want to do Module 5 next. How did you find it?


      • Nicky leeth says:

        Module 5 seems pretty straightforward if you learn the materials and go to past papers but I am not convinced the setter is always fair one section5:19 asks for the structure of the sting and how this mechanism operates to deliver the venum but stinger question on section b asked us to name 5 components of venom and the effect they have on the body – to me not on the specification and about human physiology rather than the way the plates ,muscles ,barbs lancet and stylet work. I will copy the paper and upload it when I get it back with my result. There was a 15 marker on flight muscles . Also a sneaky flagellum vs flabellum section a


  10. I wasn’t aware of that difference, it’s very interesting !Thanks for sharing


  11. denis skrnjug says:

    I am beekeeper from Croatia. I wonder can you give me some suggestions about most popular books about beekeeping in UK. Thanks!


    • Emily Scott says:

      Hi Denis,

      Nice to hear from you! For beekeeping advice, these are some of my favourites, many of which are by UK authors:

      ‘Guide to Bees & Honey’ by Ted Hooper (2010). I particularly like the glossary of flowers which honey bees are attracted to and what honey from these flowers tastes like. Also good for swarm and honey harvesting advice.

      ‘Keeping Healthy Honey Bees’ by David Aston and Sally Bucknall (2010). To learn more about diseases and caring for your bees.

      ‘Plants and Honey Bees: their relationships’ by David Aston and Sally Bucknall (2009). Get this if you’re interested in pollination and how honey bees forage.

      To learn more about honey bees themselves and their behaviour:

      ‘The Buzz about Bees’ by Jurgen Tautz (2009). This is a classic now and I learned so much about honey bees from it, things you can’t learn just by inspecting your bees. Loads of lovely colour photos too.

      ‘Honeybee Democracy’ by Thomas Seeley. All about swarming and how the bees select a new site.

      ‘The Honey Bee Inside Out’ by Celia F. Davis (2011). About how bees work – honey bee anatomy, mating, brood, dances and swarming.

      ‘The Honey Bee Around & About’ by Celia F. Davis (2009). This is a companion book to the one above and is all about how honey bees behave outside the hive, how they interact with plants to pollinate them and create honey. It’s also about bee diseases and the origin of honey bees and the different honey bee subspecies.

      To read about life for a commercial beekeeper (a British one, not on quite the same scale as a U.S. beekeeper pollinating almonds), this book by Steve Benbow is entertaining:

      You can read book reviews I’ve done at

      Hope this helps! Emily


  12. Mathijs says:

    Can you please contact me, I want to ask if I can use this picture from the summer vs winter bee on my Dutch website about nature and bees.



    • Emily Scott says:

      Hi Mathijs, please feel free to use the picture, along with my name. Many thanks.


      • Mathijs says:

        Hi Emily,
        Thanks for using your picture. I have linked to your website. If people click the picture they go to this article. You have a good website, good information. I must read more on your site so I learn more. 😉
        Greetings Mathijs.


        • Emily Scott says:

          Thanks Mathijs 🙂 I don’t speak Dutch but read your post using Google Translate. However I think the translation was maybe a little different from what you wrote:

          “A healthy at poops out the people. Therefore, bee keeping their shit on a beautiful sunny day above 8 degrees Celsius with little wind at all with his fly and defecate. They do defecate in the people and you see brown stripes on the combs or on the shelf, then you know that something is not right. During the cleaning air above them defecate on white objects as if it were hanging outside to dry or a white car.”

          A funny translation but I got the idea!


  13. bridlacy says:

    Rusty’s Honey Bee Suite offers more info on winter “fat” bees, esp their production of vitellogenin…


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