Bees are a good example of the idiom “Big things come in small packages”. These hardworking insects work day and night so it makes sense that they have to drink and eat from time to time. They collect pollen and nectar to produce honey and it is a never-ending cycle. Some bees are designated for a different job, but just the same, all of them are working non-stop to provide the hive with what it needs and water is one need that serves many purposes for the bees.
So, how do bees collect water? Bees collect the water by swallowing it and then storing it in a special compartment inside their stomach called a crop before flying back to their nest and directly transferring it to another worker bee. This direct transfer is known as trophallaxis. Bees have the ability to find water sources from almost anywhere.
There are a number of reason why bees collect water. It could be because they need to stockpile some water or simply the thirst level of the whole colony is high. It can also mean that the hive temperature needs to be cooled down to a level where the brood nest can achieve proper development.
How do bees find water?
Bees find water through the sense of smell. Water scouting bees are the ones responsible for finding the water source. They smell the water and then determine if it is a suitable source for their hive and then uses scent marker or pheromones to help others find the source.
Many beekeepers have mentioned that bees are not attracted to fresh water which means that you may need to scent your bee water source. Be careful when placing a water source for your bees. Make sure that the water is in a shallow container to prevent your bees from drowning.
When do bees collect water?
It is believed that bees collect water but are not able to store it. In a way, this is true. There is no known study where bees have collected and stored water in their hive. Experts mentioned that bees bring in water as needed and rarely store it. However, there is a recent experiment where bees have been found to store water in their crop for future use.
Bees collect water when the thirst level of the hive is high. They are able to determine this by how often their fellow bees ask for water. Bees that gather water will then gauge the demand for water by how fast the worker bee receives the water. If the worker bees received it fast then more water is needed. If the demand is high the number of water collecting bees will also rise.
During hot, dry summer days bees bring in a total of a gallon of water per day. But once the bee receiving the water slows down, the number of water collecting bees will minimize.
As winter approaches, bees will collect water for a different reason. If you’ve put pure honey inside a refrigerator, you will see that it crystalizes and thickens due to the cold. The same things happen to stored honey in hives during winter.
Bees will go out during winter and find the nearest water source to collect water for the purpose of mixing it with the honey. They dilute the honey with water to feed their brood as well.
What do bees use water for?
Water is used by bees to digest their food but it is also used for various other reasons. Below are the reasons that we know of.
Air Conditioning and Humidity
Bees collect water to cool down their hive. Their young needs to be kept in a 94℉ temperature in order to achieve optimum development.
The process of cooling down the hive is actually relative to the humidity level of the nest. What the bees do to cool their hive during hot, dry days is to drop water droplets on sealed brood or on the cell rim of larvae. In-house worker bees will then fan their wings so that air currents are created which then evaporates the water, cooling the nest area.
Bees that matured in this optimal temperature have been found to have better developed hypopharyngeal glands which then, in turn, helps feed the next young generation.
Diluting Honey in Winter
During winter, stored honey thickens and crystallizes when it dries. In order for the bees to eat the stored honey, they will have to dilute this first with water. Worker bees will collect water from the water collecting bees and then use it to thin out the honey in a consistency where it is easily swallowed.
A kind of worker bee called nurse bee has a head gland called the hypopharyngeal glands that produces a jelly-like substance called royal jelly that is the main food of the bee larvae. These nurse bees consume a large amount of pollen, nectar, and water to keep the royal jelly supply adequate for the larvae and also sometimes for other fellow bees.
How to create the best water source for bees?
Now that you know how important water is to bees’ daily lives, as a beekeeper, you now realize that it is your duty to provide a water source for your bees. Here is are some tips for creating the best water source for your bees.
Scent Your Water
Biologists have found that bees rely more on smell rather than sight when locating water. So it would make sense that water that has some earthy smell to it might be more interesting to bees rather than fresh water right out of the tap.
The reason behind might be because water that has some sort of odor contains vitamins and minerals that might not be present in fresh, clean tap water.
Keep it Bee Friendly
You’ve probably seen bees drowned in pools and in your pets drinking bowls. To prevent your bees from drowning in the water source you created for them, make sure that you have a water source that is wide and shallow.
If you already have a fountain in place, consider planting some water plants and putting in rocks so that there is an area where the bee can perch on while drinking water. Some beekeepers would use a wide saucer filled with pebbles to get the job done. There are also beekeepers who fill a bucket with water and then float corks in it to serve as rafts for their bees.
Spike it with Chlorine
You’ve already provided your bees with a water source but then you realize that the bees still not frequent it. To lure in the bees to the water source you created it helps to spike it with chlorine first. Alternatively, you can use oyster shells, sugar, and salt to serve as an attractant in your water.
Bees are a creature of habit and if they have visited an area that provides constant water source they will return to it whenever water need arises. It is a rule that once the bees have found the water source you created, you stop adding the attractant because they will come back to the area in the future.
Keep the source close but not too close
Bees can fly great distances when gathering nectar and water. Biologists have observed that bees forage a couple of mile radius from their hive. However, there are times when bees do travel up to five miles to gather the needed resources.
Keep your water source within flight distance but not to close to the hive. The reason is that bees may have a hard time explaining to other bees where the location of the water is if it is too close. A distance of 100 feet is a good place to start. Incidentally, this is also close enough so that during winter, or when temperatures are cold, bees don’t have to fly too far from the hive and risk getting frozen alive.
Everything needs water and the same applies to bees. They also need water to help them digest their food and also for so many other important reasons. Biologists now know that these insects do store water in their body during hot dry days. The experiment showed that some bees gorged themselves with water as a way of stockpiling the resource. These bees are actually dubbed as water bottle bees because of their purpose. In addition, beekeepers have devised ways on how they can provide their bees with a palatable water source that they will frequent especially during winter and hot days.
Do bees store water in winter?
No, they don’t. They gather water from the outside as the need arises. During winter the main use of water is to dilute the crystalized honey so that it can be consumed by all.
What do bees do during winter?
During winter the main purpose of the worker bees is to protect their queen from the cold. They expend a lot of energy while doing this task, therefore, they need more honey. They keep the inside of the hive warm by huddling close to each other around the queen bee and then vibrate their body to produce heat.