To explore immune system activation in the honey bee, Apis mellifera L., larvae of four ages were exposed through feeding to spores of a natural pathogen, Paenibacillus larvae larvae, to cells of a diverse set of related nonpathogenic bacteria, and to bacterial coat components. These larvae were then assayed for RNA levels of genes encoding two antibacterial peptides, abaecin and defensin. Larvae exposed to either P. l. larvae or a mix of nonpathogenic bacteria showed high RNA levels for the abaecin gene relative to controls. First instars responded significantly to the presence of the nonpathogenic mix within 12 h after exposure, a time when they remain highly susceptible to bacterial invasion. This response was sustained for two successive instars, eventually becoming 21-fold higher in larvae exposed to probiotic spores versus control larvae. The mixture of nonpathogenic bacteria is therefore presented as a potential surrogate for assaying the immune responses of different honey bee lineages. It also is proposed that nonpathogenic bacteria can be used as a probiotic to enhance honey bee immunity, helping bee larvae, and other life stages, survive attacks from pathogens in the field.