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Like humans, bees need certain things in order to survive.  Because bees have lived on their own for millions of years, you may not have given it much thought. But without these 3 main things, a bee colony will be doomed.  So, what do bees need to survive?

Food

Like all living creatures, bees need food to survive.  Food is so important to them that they spend much of their time collecting and storing food. What exactly do bees eat?  The following are food sources for bees:

  • Pollen
  • Nectar
  • Honey

Pollen and nectar are foraged from nearby flowers. That’s why it is very important for a bee colony to be situated near a good amount of flowering plants and trees.  Of course, it is best for those plants to be free of pesticides, as harmful chemicals have been known to kill bees.  

In case of a nectar dearth, a time when nectar is scarce, beekeepers sometimes will help the bees by giving them a mixture of sugar and water to eat.

Learn about sugar water for bees here.

The third thing bees eat is honey. They make a lot of honey to store and eat during the winter.  Sometimes bees from neighboring hives will even steal honey from other hives. These bees are called robber bees.

Water

Bees need water to survive.  They don’t store much water, rather, they collect it as they need it.  That’s why it’s important for the bees to be near a good source of water.  Many beekeepers like to leave out bee baths, or bee watering stations near their hives, so the bees don’t need to search for water.  

Learn how to make a bee watering station here.

Bees have several uses for water.  Of course they drink it to aid in the digestion of their food.  They also use it to make royal jelly.  Royal jelly is a substance that is secreted by nurse bees to feed larvae and the queen bee.  In order to produce royal jelly, the nurse bees must consume a lot of water.  

During the winter, sometimes the bees honey may become too thick.  In that case, they will use water to dilute the honey to the proper consistency.

A really interesting use bees have for water is that they use it to cool down the hive.  It’s sort of like their own type of air conditioning. To do this, they place water droplets on the comb and fan it with their wings.  The water droplets evaporate, cooling down the hive. 

Shelter

The third thing bees need to survive is shelter.  In the wild, bees build their own shelter, called a nest. Bee nests are usually built in hollow trees or rocks. In warmer climates you may even see an exposed hanging nest.  

A beehive, on the other hand, is a man made enclosure for bees.  Modern beehives have movable frames for which the bees will build comb on.  Shelter for bees is important because it keeps them safe and gives them a place to raise their brood. 

Room for Brood

Brood is the eggs, larvae, and pupae of the bee colony.  The queen bee lays up to 2,000 eggs per day.  In 3 days the eggs will hatch and become larvae. The larvae eats, grows, and then it’s cell gets capped with wax. Now is the pupa stage. Over the next several days the pupa forms eyes, legs, and wings. The fully formed bee then chews through the wax capping and emerges.

Bees need enough space to raise their brood so the bee colony can grow.  If they run out of space, they will likely swarm.  That means that half of the colony will leave to find a new home. 

Protection from Rain

In the bees home, they need protection from both rain and ground moisture.  It is important for the inside of the hive to stay dry to protect the brood and food stores.  Excess moisture in a hive, either from rain or ground moisture can also cause mold to grow in and around the hive. 

Most beehives have roofs that are built specifically to repel rain and keep it out of the hive. Some beekeepers also place their hives slightly slanted, to force water out of the hive. 

As a beekeeper, you can help your bees have protection from rain by repairing any cracks or holes in the hive.  If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain, it would be good to place your hives under some sort of covering.  Using a hive stand is the best way to keep ground moisture away from your beehives.  

Ventilation

Bees need ventilation in their hives for a healthy colony.  Without adequate ventilation, condensation will build up in the hive, which can kill the bees. Modern beehives allow for natural ventilation, and the bees help with ventilation as well.  

They do so by standing at the entrance or around the hive and flapping their wings.  This will push air into or, suck air out of the hive, aiding in the hive’s overall ventilation.

Summary

What do bees need to survive?  They need 3 things – food, water, and shelter. For food, bees eat pollen, nectar, and honey. They gather water as needed.  The bees shelter must have room for brood, protection from rain, and adequate ventilation. 

Holly