Do Honey Bees Drink Water?

In the bee family, water finds diverse uses. Nurse bees use the water to prepare larval food, which is diluted ripened honey. If the combs are filled with fresh nectar, it is used to feed the larvae without dilution. The question arises in the mind of new beekeepers, do honey bees drink water? The season of activity for water-carrier bees falls in early spring when the honey collection has not yet begun, and there is still no liquid honey in the hive. As fresh nectar enters the hive, the activity of water carriers fades to nothing, except in cases where the collected honey is too concentrated.

Scientists have not been able to establish how much water is needed for adults. During the research, both queen bees and worker bees placed in cages on the candy actively consumed the water offered by the beekeeper. At the same time, the life expectancy of these insects turned out to be longer than bees, experiencing water deficiency. This gives reason to assume that mature individuals need water no less than the growing offspring.

Do Honey Bees Drink Water

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do honey bees drink water?

According to the observations of scientists, after delivering water to the hive, the water-bearing bee begins a characteristic dance, dragging up to five individuals with it. At short intervals, the “water carrier” makes stops to transfer drops of life-giving water to nearby insects. With each new arrival, the dance becomes shorter, and the bee seeks to get rid of the liquid cargo faster and faster. 

Sometimes, even before the end of the dance, she manages to water up to six bees, and at the end of the ritual, she passes the rest of the water to one or two inhabitants of the hive. Each time, water can be distributed differently, replenishing the hydro balance of 1 to 18 worker bees.

Having got rid of the load, the “water carrier” begins preparations for the next flight, receiving some food from several hive individuals or from a comb filled with nectar. Immediately before the flight, the bee strikes with its proboscis between the front paws rubs its eyes, and cleans its antennae, gradually moving towards the notch. By these distinctive features of the behavior of an insect, any observer can accurately determine its intentions.

In the process of preparing the water carrier for departure from the evidence, his followers also leave the house, setting off in search of water. Before departure, sometimes they also receive their portion of food, and upon returning with a burden, they perform a characteristic dance. Want to know about Types Of Bee Dance.

how do bees store water?

In dry and hot weather, bees store liquid directly in the hives. Liquid storage is provided by small wax or propolis cells located at the top of the frames, or any depressions on the walls. water lingers on the walls of the cells, gathering at the joints of the hexagon. According to Lindauer, the water in the hive serves as a kind of thermostat. Evaporating, it prevents overheating of the air and prevents the larvae from drying out. 

how do bees store water?

Cooling the hive with water, the bees scatter microscopic droplets while moving their proboscises. Such movements make it possible to stretch the drops into a thin film, which significantly speeds up the evaporation process, helps to normalize the temperature in the evidence, and increase the concentration of honey. 

Active performance of bee dances can be observed only in hot weather when the hive is overheated, and the air temperature inside exceeds 35 °C. When the temperature returns to normal, there are fewer and fewer dances, and with them, the number of water carriers decreases.

In most geolocations, there is a significant shortage of reservoirs in which bees could store water necessary for the full-fledged rearing of young animals and the life of the bee colony during periods of drought. According to Park’s observations, in conditions of a shortage of water containers, bees hold a few drops in their stomachs. 

This can be seen in the puffed up abdomen, which decreases after getting rid of stored water. The bees responsible for the preservation of water are usually very lethargic and stay close to the brood area, transferring the liquid to other individuals and larvae if necessary. On days when the environmental conditions turned out to be unfavorable for obtaining water, the belly of insects was “blown away”, and on the next successful flight to the fields they were again filled with water.

In a number of studies, the bee family under observation was fed water with the addition of a safe dye, which made it possible to determine the degree of filling of the bellies. The drinker was placed so that it was possible to mark any individual that stocked up with water. Predominantly marked bees regularly flew to the drinking bowl, while unmarked bees appeared very rarely near the reservoir with liquid. By evening, liquid was also found in the abdomens of several hundred unmarked bees, and in the morning it was possible to find out that 1300 bees acted as water carriers, which accounted for about half of the bee colony.

It was also found that pure water was stored in the bees’ bellies for only a few hours, and then placed in the honeycombs, thereby diluting the nectar. A little diluted honey was near the brood, but most of it was stored in their stomachs by the bees, which acted as reservoirs. The observation made it possible to explain the presence of fresh honey in the hive during periods of lack of honey flow.

Features of distribution and use of water by bees in the hive

The researchers found a direct relationship between the stages of brood in the hive, the number of bees in the colony, and the volume of water consumed. According to Lindauer’s calculations, to provide water for 100 larvae, active work of 5 “water carriers” is required throughout the day. In a hive without growing offspring, the need for water is minimal, as is the need for cooling the air inside. In dry weather, adults concentrate in the coolest corners of the hive or crowd at the entrance.

In their work, water carriers are guided only by how quickly their neighbors in the hive take liquid from them. If the entire volume of water is transferred within 2 minutes, the bees fly continuously for new portions. If the transfer is delayed for 3 minutes or longer, the bee is idle for a while. And when the abdomen is not released within 10 minutes, flights for a water stop. The bee dances are closely related to the rate of water transfer the faster the individual is freed from its burden, the more active the movements become.

However, according to Lindauer, the time of water transfer is only an indirect indicator of the family’s need for liquid. In case of an acute shortage, a bee that arrived with a liquid cargo at the entrance is met by 2 or 3 individuals, which greedily take water from the water carrier. With moderate need, a bee carrying water is met at the entrance by only one individual. 

When the family does not have an acute need for water, the insect literally “bypasses” all the cells until the inhabitants of the hive take away all the liquid cargo from it. At the moment of transmission, the hive bee first tastes the liquid stored in the goiter of the water carrier, and only then takes a few drops of water.

Supplying water to the hive to the first water-carrier bee is stimulated by changes in the consistency of the contents of the honey goiter in hive bees. When the nectar in it becomes too thick, the bee begins to actively search for water, which encourages water carriers to go for water.

Investigating the activity of honey bee carry water, the Park came to the following conclusions:

  1. The duration of one flight of a bee for liquid can vary significantly.
  2. The flight over a distance of 400 m took the insect 1 minute, and the process of collecting water took more than 1 minute.
  3. In 92% of cases, the flight of the bee lasted less than 10 minutes, in 67% of cases – less than 3 minutes.
  4. On average, the residence time of the water carrier in the hive did not exceed 2-3 minutes; in some cases, the bee stayed in the hive for 5 minutes or longer.
  5. One individual per day can make up to 100 sorties, but on average the number of flights does not exceed 50.
  6. The maximum amount of water that a bee can carry away at one time is 50 mg, and the average is 25 mg.
  7. The average amount of liquid brought by a bee in one day is 1 gram.
  8. It takes 450 bees to deliver 0.5 liters of water to the hive. Only a strong bee family is able to provide itself with such a quantity.
  9. During the period of spring brood breeding, the family needs about 150 g of water. In hot weather, this amount rises to 450 g.