Do Bees Drink Water?
Bees play a critical role as pollinators for flowers, crops, and wild plants. To power their essential work enabling plant reproduction through the transfer of pollen between blossoms, bees require nourishment in the form of food and water. While nectar and pollen from flowers provide bees with carbohydrates and proteins, water is also an important consumable bees seek out. This raises the question – in what ways do various bee species find and drink water to meet their hydration needs?
This article explores the water drinking behaviors of bees, covering topics such as:
- The functions of water for bees
- Sources where bees access water
- Methods bees use for drinking water
- Seasonal differences in water foraging
- Impacts of water deprivation on bee health
- Providing clean water sources for bees
Understanding bee hydration biology and water-seeking habits allows us to support our essential pollinator partners by ensuring they have access to the water they require for hive strength. Read on to learn more about the techniques bees employ to take in life-sustaining water.
Why Bees Need Water
Water serves several key functions for bee survival:
- Thinning thick honey for feeding larvae and newly emerged adult bees
- Cooling hives through evaporative cooling via water-spreading and fanning
- Diluting crystallized honey stores to make them usable
- Moistening pollen to form “bee bread” to prevent spoilage
- Cleaning themselves and maintaining hygiene in the hive
- Metabolizing food and producing enzymatic secretions
- Oil collecting for waterproofing hair and preventing desiccation
Like all living organisms, bees require water for digestion, waste removal, temperature regulation, and general functioning.
Where Bees Source Water
Bees obtain water from:
- Puddles, ditches, streams, ponds, and other natural standing water sources
- Leaky outdoor spigots, irrigation systems, and yard sprinklers
- Fountains, birdbaths, ponds, and ornamental backyard water features
- Wet sand and mud around shorelines and riverbanks
- Morning dew condensing on grass blades and leaves
- Juicy fruits like watermelon, grapes, and oranges
Ready availability and accessibility are key factors in water sites attracting bee visitors.
How Bees Drink and Absorb Water
To ingest and carry water back to the hive, bees:
- Extend their proboscis (tongue) to suck up droplets and pools of water directly
- Collect water within their crops or honey stomachs normally used for nectar transport
- Gather dew or rain using specialized hairs on their legs and bodies that capture moisture
- Scrap off soil from damp banks, mixing it with nectar to form transportable “mud honey”
- Chew and consume juicy fruits, obtaining water from their high moisture content
Bees have an array of creative adaptations for accessing this life-essential liquid even in dry conditions.
Seasonal Variations in Water Foraging
During warmer months, bees boost water collection:
- In early spring, more water aids preparation of brood nests and rearing young.
- In summer, water aids cooling hives and thinning honey for rapid feeding as colonies are most populous.
- In fall, water helps dilute honey stores to prevent detrimental crystallization over winter.
Conversely, during winter bees are in cluster mode and do not forage for water, relying on stored honey which requires little dilution while metabolically inactive.
Impacts of Water Shortages on Bees
Insufficient water intake causes major health problems for bees:
- Dehydration leads to thick honey that can’t be fed to larvae and new bees. Larval death results.
- Lack of evaporative cooling makes it harder for bees to regulate ideal hive temperatures. This stresses colonies.
- Undiluted honey and pollen are difficult for bees to utilize. Nutrition suffers.
- Bees may have to travel long distances for water, wasting energy and risking overheating or predation far from the hive.
- Poor hygiene results from insufficient cleaning water enabling parasites, bacteria, and viruses to thrive.
Access to ample nearby water sources is thus essential for healthy, productive bee colonies.
Providing Clean Water Sources for Bees
Beekeepers and gardeners can help bees thrive by:
- Installing a small backyard pond with floating landing platforms, gravel edges, and shallow areas for easy access.
- Setting up a water station with tiers of trays, sponges, or cups with pebbles offering safe footing.
- Filling birdbaths daily, adding rocks, corks, or marbles for drowning prevention.
- Frequently misting garden plants to provide hydration without soaking bees.
- Supplying a clean water feeder with honey bee attractant in commercial apiaries.
- Ensuring water sources have a sloped or textured entry for easy exit.
- Avoiding deep water troughs and unramped pools where bees may become trapped.
With some thoughtful effort, we can repay bees for their pollination services by offering them the water their colonies depend on.
While bees obtain carbohydrates from flower nectar and proteins from pollen, they also require a steady supply of clean water. Bees source water from natural pools, fruits, dew collection, and leaky manmade systems. They employ specialized structures and methods to suck, carry, and consume this vital liquid. Ensuring adequate nearby water, especially during hot and dry periods, sustains healthy bee colonies. By understanding bee hydration needs, we can help provide ideal habitats that support our essential pollinator partners. The availability of water shapes the environment’s capacity to nourish life.