Ever wondered if bees also drink water or they simply need flowers? And if they need the water where do they get it? Do they need a special type of water or source? This article will help you to put all these questions to rest and help you even know how to give bees safe drinking water safely.
Every living thing needs water to survive and bees need water for digesting and metabolizing their food. Bees also need water for regulating temperatures within the hive. Water also comes in handy in preparing bee larval food. Worker bees make almost 50 trips a day collecting water.
Top Reasons Why Bees Need Water
Every lifeform on earth needs water in one way or another to survive. If humans need to drink several glasses of water a day to remain healthy and for their bodily functions to go on properly, bees too must drink water for the sake of their health.
But the need for water by bees is not only tied to them drinking it, there are many other uses that are critical to the survival of the colony that is unrelated to the adult bees drinking it.
Let’s delve deeper into knowing why bees need water.
1. Bees need water to regulate the temperature and humidity in their hive
Honey bees require the temperature within their hive to be maintained at an optimal level. For a normal functioning of the beehive activities, the bees work to ensure that the temperature is at 35°C (95° Fahrenheit).
Temperature regulation within the hive to be within this level is done by the bees themselves using water. Summertime is especially critical and a time when bees need water most because of the high temperatures.
If the temperatures are allowed to rise too high within the hive, some disastrous things may happen such as melting of the honey wax combs. If the wax combs melt, the entire colony is affected because all the activities of the bees are attached to them.
Basically, the bees use the water as a form of air-conditioning. When the worker bees collect the water from whatever sources outside the hive, the first thing is to spread a thin layer on the sealed brood cells. Next, the worker bees working in the hive flap their wings continuously causing a flow of air within the hive. The circulating air evaporates the water and this circulation brings the temperatures down to the optimum.
The circulation of evaporated water also helps to keep humidity in the hive within the favorable levels for the comfort of all the hive occupants.
2. Bees need water for proper digestion
Given that at times the bees eat solid materials in form of pollen or thick nectar, water is needed to help them digest and metabolize the food just like in humans. Solid food without water will cause constipation and the same happens with bees.
However, the bees only drink water during seasons when they are busy foraging for food. Water or watery food becomes a hazard to bees during winter.
If bees drink water during winter, given the cold temperatures, the water would affect them negatively leading to diarrhea which can spread to the entire colony. This is why sometimes beekeepers lose an entire bee colony through diarrhea.
It is for this same reason that bees should only drink clean water that will interfere with their health. Bees can also become sickly and die.
3. Water is needed in preparation of bee larva food
Developing bees are not like mature bees, they are more sensitive to the kind of food they can handle. Similar to weaning children, the young bees need to be handled with great care.
Water helps to prepare their food to ensure they can eat it without any issues given that they cannot eat normal food for adult bees.
Preparation of the food for larvae involves mixing honey, pollen and water. It is the work of the worker bees to give the larvae the right food. They produce it themselves from their hypopharyngeal glands and to do it well the worker bees must have taken up sufficient water.
It is not only the larvae that need water to mix with their food, adults too need it. When the honey has stayed for long in the hive, there is a tendency for it to have a high concentration of glucose because of crystallization.
The adult bees will need water to dilute such honey before eating it.
In cases where beekeepers provide supplementary food to their bees, some make the mistake of offering bees feed that contains dry sugar crystals. In this form, the feed is unhelpful to the bees. The bees will need water to dissolve these sugar crystals for it to be beneficial to them.
How Do Bees Get Their Water?
In any colony, there is a division of labor. Different bee categories have different jobs. The major ones are worker bees, drones and the queen.
The worker bees are the ones tasked with doing the heavy lifting for the hive. Foraging for food and water, cleaning the hive, feeding the larvae and queen as well as grooming each other.
Not all worker bees in a hive go out to forage for food. A small population is given the responsibility of collecting water.
Each worker bee will make almost 50 trips to and from the hive to collect water. In each trip, a single bee will carry about 25 mg of water.
Unless there is an acute shortage of water in the hive, just a few bees will do this job. But in times of desperation, more worker bees will join in collecting water.
How Much Water Do Bees Need Per Day?
According to scientists, bees drink their weight equivalent amount of water every day.
Sometimes, several liters of water may be needed by a single colony in a day, especially during summer. Consider that a colony would have up to 60,000 bees. This can translate to an equivalent of 3 gallons of water in a day (11 liters).
Tips for Providing Water to Bees
- Makes sure the water is clean and safe for bees to drink
Water is life to bees, without water they would die. But it is more than that, without safe water the bees would also die.
You must ensure that the source of water for your bees or any other bee you want to feed is clean and safe.
If the water is contaminated, the bees may contract some diseases and this can easily spread to the whole colony bringing extermination.
Therefore, if you choose to feed bees yourself, always ensure the feeders are clean and do not let the same water sit in the container for a long time. It is actually good practice to put fresh water every time you clean the container to eliminate the chances of having any contamination.
If you have multiple beehives, do not allow the different colonies to share the same water source especially if the water sources are placed in the hives.
The importance of this is to avoid the spreading of any contagious diseases from one colony to another.
Whenever a colony has been plagued by sickness, make sure everything about that hive is isolated including the feeders. This will help the unaffected colonies to remain healthy and thrive.
There is no guarantee that specific bees will be drinking from specific feeders each time, but it is better safe than sorry.
Beekeepers are often tempted to let the bees free-range and locate their own source of water from a natural water source. The downside to this is that you have no guarantee of the quality of this water. If it gets contaminated, the consequences on your side will be terrible.
It is wise to have your own source of water for your bees, one whose cleanliness you can regulate yourself.
- The water source should be reliable
Bees are constantly searching for sources of water. This can be a puddle, a swimming pool, a river, a lake, or from a trough placed by the beekeeper.
In summer, water sources can be scarce as many dry outs bringing challenges to your colony. The last resort for bees is to collect water from the walls of the hive, but within no time this water can also be exhausted given that the number of young bees is increasing in the hive.
During wintertime, the bees may be forced to venture outside in search of water. Such trips during winter, when temperatures are extremely low prove to be deadly to the bees. Often such worker bees don’t make it back alive.
When it is impossible to fly outside the hives looking for water, the brooding will cease and that is dangerous to the survival of the colony.
Such situations are what forces bees to collect water from whatever kind of source. Sometimes you find water sources have been contaminated by chemicals from the use of pesticides.
It is therefore of paramount importance for any beekeeper to provide a reliable water source all year round for the bees. So that they don’t suffer or end up taking up harmful water.
How Do You Safely Give Bees Water?
Bees are very small and need to be extra careful with how you offer them water to drink otherwise they will end up drowning. It is not enough to just provide water, the water must also be given in a way that is safe to the bees.
- First ensure that the water is free from contamination by chemicals.
Bees are able to float on the water because of surface tension. Chemicals however interfere with the properties of the water and when the bees try to land on the surface they end up drowning.
Any farm wastewater is not safe for bees, because the chances of its being contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals are high.
- Place objects such as stones, twigs and corks to help the bees avoid drowning
Stuff floating in the water will help the bees drink without drowning. The bees can use these objects as landing pads and drink safely without any danger.
But keep checking regularly to make sure the rain has not made the water overflow the objects bringing back the same hazard you were trying to avoid.
- Use a wide mouthed container to place the water
It seems obvious but it should be mentioned that the water container should be wide-mouthed.
If it is narrow, and the water is deep the bees may come to drink out of desperation and end up drowning with their peers who may try to rescue them.
Also, the way that bees detect water is by sensing the vapor, the wider the container the easier it will be for the bees to detect the water vapor and drink the water.
- Place the water source near the hive
If the water source is too far from the hive, the bees will waste a lot of energy traveling long distances and the effect will be evident in the honey yields come harvest season.
You want to give your bees an easier time in producing the honey. They should not struggle to get the necessary resources, be it pollen and nectar or even water.
- Do not let the water sources dry out without taking notice
Ensure there is sufficient water for your bees throughout. There should not be a lack of water at any given time.
In case you are afraid of making your bees drown, you can opt for a syrup feeder or provide water to the bees directly in the hives.
If you want to discourage bees from using a certain water source, place a pinch of salt in it. They will move away to find an alternative.
Above all, ensure your bee waterer is safe for your bees. You can even set one up in your garden to help the bees that visit find clean water. Make sure it is shallow to avoid drowning. Clean it regularly and replenish the water often.
A happy bee equates to a happy beekeeper and great quality honey.