No water, no life, said Sylvia Earle, concisely.
All bees need water to drink, and they are as selective of this most basic, precious substance as they are of nectar and pollen: that is, they choose water sources that contain particular minerals, vitamins, or nutrients that the colony requires, and that are available at an appropriate distance from the hive.
Water foragers, like any thirsty bees, locate water by the scent of its extra contents. The H2O itself has no odor. Elsewhere in this blog, we describe the specialized category of honey bee foragers that gather water, exclusively, to meet the colony’s needs (see Water Foragers in the Bee Biology section).
Your bees don’t care whether you may have bought an expensive, shiny new gadget to supply “sparkling-clean” water for them and placed it conveniently right on their doorstep: they most likely will never use it.
They find their own supply. What they require is a safe place to stand at the edge of a shallow source, or on any kind of floating or solid “island” in deeper water so they won’t fall in and drown. Swimming pools and generously filled birdbaths are not ideal!
- Don’t put a water source right next to the hives. Place it at least 20 feet away.
If you want to make sure your bees have a reliable water source (or sources), here are a few tips:
- Observe where the water foragers prefer to drink in your yard and enhance those sources in simple ways, such as the following:
…….if the source is a puddle on a piece of plastic, or on wood shavings or straw, in a gutter, or a similar site, check daily to maintain a small, shallow bit of water there;
…….if it is the rim of a bucket, add a little water in that tiny catchment once or twice a day;
…….if the bees are drinking from water droplets on a plant leaf, be sure to sprinkle the plant lightly each morning. If instead, the droplets are actually exuded by the plant itself through its pores (i.e., guttation) just keep up a good watering schedule;
…….and so on!
- Be particularly attentive to replenishing sources during hot summer months, when the bees need water not only to drink, but also to cool their hives.
Be observant, be attentive—take photos! It’s fun to discover what the bees find attractive, and to view your own back yard from a half-inch-long water forager’s perspective.