Many parasites, including important species that affect humans and livestock, must survive the harsh environment of insect guts to complete their life-cycle. Hence, understanding how insects protect themselves against such parasites has immediate practical implications. Previously, such protection has been thought to consist mainly of mechanical structures and the action of lectins. However, recently it has become apparent that gut infections may interact with the host immune system in more complex ways. Here, using bumble bees, Bombus terrestris and their non-invasive gut trypanosome, Crithidia bombi, as a model system we investigated the effects of parasitic infection, host resources and the duration of infections on the host immune system. We found that infection doubled standing levels of immune defence in the haemolymph (the constitutive pro-phenoloxidase system), which is used as a first, general defence against parasites. However, physical separation of the parasite from the haemolymph suggests the presence of a messenger system between the gut and the genes that control the pro-phenoloxidase system. Surprisingly, we found no direct effect of host resource-stress or duration of the infection on the immune system. Our results suggest a novel and tactical response of insects to gut infections, demonstrating the complexity of such host–parasite systems.