Why do bees need water? All living creatures need water: some more, some less.
Image courtesy of Rudy Herndon - The Times-Independent - Utah
Aside from the normal biological processes that require water, bees need it for a number of reasons:
1. Bee eggs ideally need 90-95% humidity in the cell to hatch. Too low or too high humidity reduces hatching success.
2. Bee brood requires a temperature of around 35c to develop properly. To regulate the temperature, bees spread water on hive walls and place it inside cells. They fan their wings to evaporate the water, which cools the hive and also raises the humidity.
3. Brood food is 55-80% water.
4. Honey must be diluted to be easily consumable by bees. They add water to dilute it to 50% moisture.
Altogether, a strong hive needs about 250 mL (about 1 cup) per day but on a hot summer day this requirement is significantly increased and a healthy hive just going about its business will need as much as a litre - that’s as much as a small dog needs.
Much of a hive’s water needs are related to brood rearing so bees lined up around a birdbath on a hot summer day is a sign that all is well with the hive: the queen is laying and brood are being tended.
While a major source during blooming season is nectar, which is typically 50 to 60% water, and the act of drying nectar to make honey helps with the need for humidity and evaporative cooling it is important that bees also have a reliable and safe water source, especially during the hot, dry summer months.
Additional water is collected by bees in the same manner that they collect nectar. Certain bees are water-collectors - they scout for it and recruit other water-collectors as needed. Instead of storing it in cells to use later as they do with nectar, some bees act as water reservoirs. These “tanker bees” accept water from foragers, swelling up as they are given more and more. Overnight, when no one is foraging, they provide the hive with their stored water so that normal activities can continue (humidity regulation, honey dilution, etc.).
Bees locate and select water sources in four ways:
- by sight
- by perceiving the water-vapor content of the air
- by “smelling” substances in the water
- by taste - they prefer over slightly salty and aromatic water over pure, unadulterated water - which is why your neighbours swimming pool is such a popular choice.
The number of ways to provide water to bees is limited only by our imagination. A few popular methods include:
- Allow a leaky faucet to drip onto a board
- Provide a water-filled bucket/bird feeder etc. with some sort of float (Styrofoam peanuts, straw, marbles etc.) to reduce drowning
- Install a Boardman feeder filled with water instead of sugar syrup
- Set a chicken waterer in the bee yard
- Make a full-fledged water garden with fountains, waterfalls etc - a waterfall creates moving water that attracts bees and deters mosquitoes. A variety of aquatic plants provide ample footholds that prevent drowning
Some ideas for consideration...