Do Bees Need Water? Safe Bee Waterer Solutions
Bzzzz! Honey bees are more than just busy—they're amazzzzing! There are few pursuits as fascinating as watching honey bees at work. Maybe it's the way they build perfectly hexagonal cells or the way the colony pitches in to care for the queen bee and each other. Or maybe it's the amazing way they make honey and beeswax. Whatever it is, beekeeping is a fun and useful pursuit and one that allows even people in suburban settings to try their hand at a little farming.
When you're first exploring the topic of beekeeping, you'll learn about some of the tools and equipment you'll need for beekeeping: hives, bee brushes, bee smokers and bee suits, and you'll also learn how to feed bees and, just as important, how to water bees.
Wait—do bees need water? Do bees like water? Let's learn a little about honey bees and water and see how you can fulfill their watery needs.
Honey Bee H20
So, do bees drink water? Yes, they absolutely do. They require water just like other insects, mammals, amphibians—everybody gets thirsty! Plus, honey bees haul water back to the hive for other purposes, like cooling the brood of immature bees on a hot day or supplying water for bees that aren't collecting water themselves. Honey bees also use water to mix with their food sources for the queen and young bees.1
But don't honey bees drink honey? Actually, no. Bees use honey as a food and energy source. Honey is stored nectar the bees have processed with special enzymes to make it a stable food source with a long shelf life. (Most bees don't hibernate during the winter, so they need to store food for the time of the year when nothing is in bloom.)
Your Bee Water Station
Sure, your honey bees are somewhat self-sufficient. You don't need to tell them how to make honeycomb or where to find flowers. But you are still a key player in their overall success. If you plant flowers or blossoming trees near their hives, they will certainly use those nearby and convenient nectar sources—and provide you with pollination in return. And the same goes for water. If you don't provide water, they'll attempt to find it on their own—possibly traveling up to five miles to get it! Lengthy travel uses up a lot of energy that could be put to other uses around the hive (like creating honey). But if you provide a safe and clean water source near the hives, they're more likely to use that and less likely to go searching for distant sources of water, like those near your neighbors.2
So, how do you make a safe water source for your honey bees? For one thing, it should be designed to prevent the bees from drowning. This situation actually happens pretty frequently, so it's worth taking care to choose or design a bee waterer that minimizes the risk. You can make a simple bee waterer by filling a small pan with water and placing small rocks at the bottom. Make sure the rocks aren't completely submerged—you want the tops exposed to give the bees a place to stand.3 Birdbaths (bee baths?) are another option—they tend to be shallow, which works well for the bees as long as you provide small stones or pieces of wood or cork for the bees to land on.
A downside to both of these options is that the water can evaporate and dry up rather quickly, especially on hot days. To help prevent that, try a bee waterer like the K&H HoneyBee Waterer to help keep your hive hydrated. Since it holds two-and-a-half gallons, it can keep your bees supplied with water for days, and it includes foam inserts that soak up the water to make it easy (and safe) for the bees to grab a drink when they need it. (Natural water sources, especially moving water like a spring or stream, are also beneficial to honey bees and don't attract mosquitoes since the water is moving.)
Bees definitely need water, and providing a bee waterer for your honey bees is a great and easy way to help them thrive as they busily work in their hive. And since the average honey beehive contains about 30,000 bees, just think of how many bees you're helping! It's un-bee-lievable!
1. Garvey, Kathy Keatley. Bug Squad/University of California. “Honey Bees Need Water, Too!" 8 July 2014, https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=14566
2. Delaplane, Keith S. University of Georgia Extension. “Honey Bees and Beekeeping," 11 April 2017, https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1045&title=Honey%20Bees%20and%20Beekeeping
3. Arathi, H.S., Davidson, D., and Mason, L. Colorado State University Extension. “Attracting Native Bees to Your Landscape," November 2017, https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/attracting-native-bees-landscape-5-615/