Help a Bee to Wet Her Whistle
All creatures need water -- and bees are no exceptions! Bees may be able to get sufficient water from the nectar they drink to get by, but they are often found drinking water from other sources in the summer. Honey bees particularly need extra water because they use it to cool their hives in the summer time.
Honey bee colonies can get hot!
A honey bee colony could have over 40,000 members by the middle of the summer. Even though they each very small, all those bodies can produce a lot of heat. Honey bees maintain a fairly constant temperature of 93 degrees inside their nest, which is the perfect temperature to incubate baby bees. They can warm things up when the weather is cold, but they also need to cool things off when the weather gets hot.
How do honey bees cool off?
Honey bees are remarkable creatures that have learned to ventilate their homes. Many bees will line up together, facing one direction, and actively fan their wings, creating air currents into and out of a bee hive. They bring in fresh, cool, oxygen-rich air, while blowing out the stale, humid air filled with carbon dioxide. When our temperatures are hotter than the ideal nest temperature, however, just bringing in outside air doesn't help as much. They bees then rely on evaporative cooling.
You might notice honey bees lining up for a drink at a puddle, a creek, a bird bath, or even near a swimming pool. They fill their nectar crops with water (this is the same extra "stomach" they use to transport nectar back home from the flowers they visit). Back at the hive, the busy bees will deposit tiny droplets of water all around the hive. Now, as the bees fan their wings, the moving air evaporates the water, and carries some of the heat away with it. They use the same activity to evaporate water from nectar to help turn it into honey.
You might feel a little cooler when you climb out of a pool, as the breeze draws off some of the water and makes your skin feels cooler. Before refrigerated air conditioning was popular, people relied on evaporative coolers -- also known as swamp coolers -- to help make homes more comfortable. This technology goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who are believed to have hung wet blankets across windows to help cool the breezes coming into a room. But honey bees should really get the credit for coming up the idea first.
How can you provide water for bees?
Want to treat the bees in your neighborhood with some fresh cool water? You can leave a dish out for them, or keep your bird bath full if you don't mind them buzzing around your garden. Bees can't swim, though, and they can't sip while on the wing like a hummingbird. Bees must land in order to take a drink, which is why you will observe them lined up at the edge of a water source. You can fill a container with clean gravel they can sit on while they sip, or provide them with pieces of wood floating in the water for them to land on. Bees will also visit swimming pools and hot tubs if they can't find any other water sources. They will usually be found sipping from puddles splashed around the pool, and won't try to get to climb down the ladder. So be mindful of them as you walk around in your bare feet.
Bees are always on the lookout for a sweet treat.
These bees are out on an important mission to collect water for their colony. They don't have any interest in stinging people, but if they feel threatened, they might react defensively. Also, be mindful of sweet foods and drinks outside in the summer. Bees and other insects might be enticed by the smell and flavor of your soda pop, candy, and sliced watermelons. Cover food and drinks to keep any insects out, and don't swat at a bee that may just be looking around.
If you want to provide bees with water, you'll need to keep it consistently topped off.
If the water source dries up, they will find another one. Beekeepers should provide their bees with water nearby, so they don't have to exert as much energy gathering fresh water, and to keep them from having to find it where they may not be so welcome. Hot summer weather also means wildflowers become more scarce. Plant things that will bloom in July and August, when there may be little other forage available, and keep those gardens watered too!