Everyone knows that bees gather pollen, nectar, and propolis, but people often forget about another very important resource bees must collect – water. As a beekeeper, you must provide an adequate water source for your bees. Even if you are not a beekeeper, it’s nice to leave a watering station out for the bees as well.
How Bees Collect Water
When bees are out foraging they first need to find a water source. Then they swallow the water and store it in a special compartment in their stomachs. The compartment is called a crop and is also called a honey stomach. The job of the crop is to store and transfer liquids such as honey, nectar, and water. When empty, the crop is quite small, but when full of liquid it can expand to ten times it’s original size.
Once the crop is full of water they fly back to their hive. They then transfer the water to another worker bee, who then distributes the water as needed. This process is called trophallaxis . Trophallaxis is the direct transfer of food (or water) from one bee to another. Bees aren’t the only insect that does this. Other social insects such as termites, ants, and wasps us trophallaxis as an important part of their colonies.
How do Bees Find Water?
Bees use their amazing sense of smell to find water. Certain scout bees are responsible for finding water sources. They are able to tell if the water is suitable by it’s scent. Once they determine that it is a good source of water they mark it with pheromones to guide other bees to it.
Bees prefer water with a scent to it, so you may find that they are not attracted to fresh water. Water with an earthy scent is attractive to bees. They also prefer water with some growth to it, like green slime.
Some beekeepers have found that for some reason, bees tend to be attracted to the smell of chlorine pools. For that reason, bees have been known to go to nearby pools for water. Unfortunately, this is not a good water source for bees, as they frequently drown in pools.
Bees also don’t store water in their hives. Instead, they collect water as needed. For that reason, it is important to have a good water source near your bees. That way they won’t need to venture far away to unsafe areas.
What Bees do With Water
Other than the obvious, drinking it, bees have several uses for water. Bees need water in order to help them digest their food. However nurse bees must drink more water than other worker bees.
Nurse bees make royal jelly by secreting it from their hypopharyngeal glands. The royal jelly is used to feed larvae and the queen. In order to create an adequate supply of royal jelly nurse bees consume pollen, nectar, and lots of water.
Bees store honey to eat during the winter. However, cold temperatures tend to make the honey thicken and crystallize. To combat this, bees dilute the thickened honey with water to make it the desired consistency.
Bees are finicky about temperature and prefer their hive to be 94-95 degrees Fahrenheit, no matter the season. So, when the hive gets too hot, the bees use water to cool down the hive. They do this by putting water droplets on or near sealed brood and fanning their wings. This causes the water to evaporate, cooling the hive.
How to Make a Water Station for Bees
Making a water station for bees is an easy and fun project. Kids love making bee waterers with things they find in their yard. However, if you are a beekeeper with several hives, you will need to scale this project up quite a bit. One dish of water will not be enough for your colonies. Instead, you may want to use several sugar water feeders for bees filled with water. Choose an entrance feeder, like the one below.
A water station for bees is also called a bee waterer, or a bee bath. To make one for your yard you will need the following:
- Large dish or bowl
- Rocks or marbles
You likely have all of these things at home already. To make your bee bath, simply put the rocks or marbles at the bottom of the dish (I used a cake pan). Add some sticks if you’d like too. The rocks and sticks are for the bees to land on, so they don’t drown.
Then, fill the dish with water. Remember, you don’t want the rocks completely submerged because that is what the bees will be landing on. Another option, instead of using rocks and marbles is to use wine corks. The corks will float in the water, providing a place for the bees to land.
Place the bee bath in a shady area of your garden. If you are having issues with animals getting to the water you can cover it with some mesh. Check you bee bath daily to see if you need to add more water.
Bees need water for several reasons. They use it to aid in digestion, to make royal jelly, to dilute honey, and to cool down their hive. They find water by using their incredible sense of smell. It is easy and fun to make a water station for bees at home.