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Water is universal and a necessity for all living creatures, including honeybees. Both feral and domesticated bees require a reliable source of clean water for their survival throughout the year. Water is not only needed for quenching thirst but is also used for other important purposes in the honeybee colony. It is useful during hot and colder months and thus colonies should be situated near a clean water source.
How Honeybees Collect Water
The worker bees are the main providers of food to a honeybee colony. Foragers venture outside the hive in search of pollen, nectar, propolis, and water. These are the main foods that sustain a honeybee colony.
The water and nectar are carried by worker bees using their crop inside their body, whereas pollen and propolis stick to pollen baskets positioned on the hind legs of the worker bee.
Worker bees operate as specialists, with a forager focusing on collecting a single thing for an entire day. That means an incoming forager that has collected water or nectar, will pass on the substance mouth-to-mouth to another worker house bee before embarking on a return journey to collect the same substance.
The worker bees will collect as much water as possible for the entire day and will only stop when they cannot find a house bee that is willing to accept their load. This is a way they communicate and such a bee will focus on collecting some other substance such as nectar, propolis, or pollen.
Clean water might be important for bees but they tend to be attracted to water with a certain smell. In most cases, bees may brush off the clean water provided and move to water in a stagnant ditch, muddy mole hole, wet leaves, or slimy flower pots. The smell of salt and chlorine attracts bees and that can explain why bees may be attracted to water that appears dirty to the human eye.
How Bees Use Water
Honeybees might collect water just like they collect pollen and nectar but they do not have water reservoirs or cells inside the beehive. The water collected is meant for various uses that include:
1. Thinning/Diluting Honey
Water is used for thinning honey to make it palatable to the young bees. The very young brood and bees do not have well-developed organs for digesting thick honey. The water thus helps dilute the honey for easy consumption and absorption. The nurse worker bees also use their hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands to make special brood food such as royal jelly that is used for feeding young bees.
2. Water helps Maintain the Optimal Hive Conditions
The honeybee colony requires specific humidity and temperature levels for young bees and brood to survive. Cold or extremely hot conditions can cause the death of the future generation of bees. Water is also useful in cooling honeycombs since these can melt under high temperatures. Water, therefore, helps keep the temperature within the required 91°F – 97°F. The bees apply evaporative cooling to a lower temperature when it is too high. This is where the bees place water droplets on the honeycomb surface.
Importance of Providing Water in Beekeeping
Honeybees require water throughout all the seasons of the year. The water demand is however much higher during the hot summer months. Water shortage during such times proves to be fatal for not only the bees but also to those that live close to your apiary.
Beekeepers provide water for honeybees for the sole purpose of keeping the bees away from unwanted places such as neighbor’s pools, urban areas, other pets, or farms that use chemicals. The dry spells can force foraging workers to seek water from such sources, posing a big risk to your neighbors and the bees.
By providing a good water source, the beekeeper can keep the bees away from contaminated water sources. Rainfall run-off can collect water with pesticides and chemicals that can lead to bee deaths. Therefore, it is safe to have your water source near the apiary.
Additionally, a close water source helps prevent the bees from covering the average 5 miles they are known for when searching for water. That way the bees can focus on doing other tasks in the hive.
Providing the Best Water Source for Honeybees
Honeybees should be provided with a near water source for their use all year around. This helps conserve energy that would have been expended on looking for and ferrying water from far places. The water should be placed in a safe location and should be reliable.
A water source for honeybees should be shallow since bees tend to drown. This could be a source with rocks, pebbles, or sand on the side to make it easy for the bees to collect the water without drowning. A small pond or water garden is a popular way of providing clean water for bees.
If the bees tend to avoid the provided water, then it is advisable to plant flowers that attract bees around the water source. These should be close to the shallow ends of the pond to prevent the bees from drowning. It is also important to give bees the kind of water they like. Since they are attracted to the scent, bees prefer water with specific smells such as moss, worms, wet earth, chlorine, aquatic plants, or decomposing matter. Bees love smelly or slimy water and the reason for it could be the fact that such water contains a wide variety of nutrients.
Providing a clean water source for your honeybees can be a fun activity. Bees will benefit from it irrespective of whether it is a small or large water source. Water is essential for honeybee survival and a good water source can contribute to higher productivity from the bee colony. For starters, it is wise to place the water source about a mile from the apiary. If unable to build a small pond, then provide a water container nearby for the bees to use. You have so many options to choose from given the wide variety of containers available for watering bees.