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Providing Bees Drinking Water Safely

Bees and other insects do need access to good water sources. Honey bees will find water on their own but the quality may not be good. Providing bees drinking water that is clean and safe to visit is a good thing to do. Whether you are a beekeeper, gardener or just a bee-lover, you can help thirsty pollinators get through the hot Summer.

Do Bees Drink Water?

Honey bees drinking water from tub.

Bees can be seen gathering water from a nearby stream or pond. In the case of honey bees, it may not be consumed on its on but is used inside the hive. Having access to a close water source is especially important for honey bee colonies due to their large population.

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Providing Water for Beehives

Having a clean water source is especially important for beekeepers with several hives. These hard working colonies require more water than one might think. This is especially true during the hot days of Summer.

Given our habit of having several hives in one location or “bee yard”, the bees drinking water is a primary concern. This topic should be explored before bees arrive on the yard.

Most beekeepers need to establish a suitable drinking spot for your colonies. They may not use it and sometimes it may seem that they prefer to drink from a nearby mud puddle.

For urban beekeepers, a natural water supply may be more difficult for your bees to find. Runoff water is often contaminated with fertilizers and other lawn care products.

Foragers are less likely to come into contact with contamination by pesticides or other chemicals if they stay in your yard. A consistent water source with a safe place to drink is especially important in warm months.

Honey bees gathering water for a simple water source image.

Why do Bees Need Water?

Worker bees visit millions of blooming flowers and to collect pollen and plant nectar. They use nectar to make honey and store it inside the hive to use in Winter.

But, water is another thing bees collect and unlike honey it is not stored in comb. Water is used for several purposes in daily colony life. The top two include:

  • diluting or thinning honey for easier consumption
  • helping control heat and humidity inside the hive
Worker bee collecting water image.

Nurse Bees Feeding Young

The workers functioning as nurse bees often use water to thin honey. Their special mandibular and hypopharyngeal glands provide royal jelly and special brood food substances for very young larva. However, honey is also used a food in the colony and water is used to thin it down.

Water is Used for Air Conditioning

Living conditions inside the hive must be maintained at certain levels for developing young or “brood”.

Controlling internal hive temperature is vital. Overheating can cause the death of young. The temperature in the brood nest must stay between 91°F – 97°F. In addition, extreme hot temperatures in the hive may allow honeycomb to sag and break.

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Water is used to bring down internal temperatures using evaporative cooling. If the temperature rises too high, the colony goes into action. Many droplets of water are placed on the surface of the honey comb.  

Then, workers fan their wings to circulate air through the colony. Air passing over the water droplets has a cooling effect.   This “social ventilation” enables colony to keep temperatures in check. Not too hot, just the right temperature.

How Bees Collect Water

The colony does not store water inside the hive. At least, not in cells of honeycomb – as they do nectar, honey or pollen. On any given day, a percentage of the workers in a colony will be in charge of collecting water. 

These bees fly to visit their favorite water source.  The tongue (proboscis) is extending into the water. And, with the same pumping action used to harvest nectar, the bee sucks up the liquid.

Stored in the honey stomach, water is carried back to the hiveOnce inside, these bees travel around giving water where it is needed. 

A natural stream in a forest image.

Creating Water Sources For Bees

There are several reasons to provide a bee waterer. As beekeepers, we do not want them to expend tremendous amounts of energy to collect water from far away.

Beekeepers develop some ingenious ways to provide bees with drinking water.  Thankfully, many of these ideas work well for the homeowner or gardener who wants to help bees too.

Important Tips to Remember

  • safe places for bees to drink
  • consistent source
Many honey bees drinking water from concrete basin.

Bee Safety

Honey bees are one of the most interesting types of insects around. They can do so many miraculous things. Unfortunately, one thing they do well is drown – especially if the water is cool.

Safe places for bees to drink including shallow areas where they can sip water without falling in. Rocks, sand or pebbles along the waters edge are a good option. Concrete tubs often have rough surfaces for bees to grab.

For the gardener wanting to provide a cute water source, it can be as simple as this clay pot bee water station. Yes it is small but refilling daily in a shady part of the yard is not too hard.

To make it more practical and requiring less maintenance, take the same idea and make the basin bigger. However, small projects like this small bee waterer are a good opportunity to teach kids about bees.

For the beekeeper, the use of a regular quart jar feeder placed on the front of the hive is popular. This is inexpensive and easy.  However, you must never let them run out.

Bee water source made of barrel with drip plate image.

Water Sources Must be Dependable

Small water sources are easy to create but they require more maintenance.  It takes some discipline to remember to check any small water source – every day or twice a day.

The same problems applies to small fountains, buckets, etc.  When hot weather arrives and your bees really need more water, will you be able to remember to refill?

Pink water lily in pond water for bees image.

Water Gardens or Small Ponds

Another way to provide drinking water for bees is with a water garden. I love mine and have had them for many years – even before I had honey bees. This is something almost any homeowner or homesteader can do.

A water garden does not have to be a half acre pond. A small pond of 100-200 gallons in size provides a lot of water.

Yes, you still have to manage the water level but it is a weekly chore rather than daily. This means less monitoring and maintenance.

Honey bees are seen gathering water all year long on warm days.  And, you can also plant flowers that bees like around the pond area. Be sure to include a shallow place for the bees to drink without fear of drowning.

A small pool with some plants and a few goldfish can be an educational and entertaining addition to any backyard. You could even jump in if you don’t mind swimming with the frogs and fishes.

More Ideas:

  • a shallow bird bath filled with small pebbles to provide a safe place to land
  • plastic tubs (or similar) filled with a bit of floating material (pieces of pool noodles etc.)
  • a large bucket with a spout that is allowed to slowly drip
  • a wide plant saucer filled with glass pebbles

Keeping Bees Out of Neighbors Pool

Bees will go to a nearby swimming pool. And, if your neighbors have a salt water pool – the bees seem to like it even better !

One of the best reasons to provide bees with drinking water – your neighbor has a swimming pool ! (Be a good neighbor, citizen and beekeeper and try to keep your bees out of their swimming pool.

Pre-planning on the part of the beekeeper and understanding on the part of the pool owner can be a great asset. Have a water source in place (closer to the hive than the pool) before your bees arrive.

Honey bee with proboscis extended into drinking water from pond image.

Providing clean drinking water for bees can be fun and beautiful. Both small and larger features contribute to good pollinator health. Water is important to these beneficial life forms. Healthy bees are productive bees.

Do you have a corner of your garden with room for a small pond or water feature? A creative water source can be a beautiful part of your bee friendly garden.

FAQs about Water for Bees

Should I put out water for bees?

Yes, there is not reason no to help a thirsty bee. This is especially true if you live in areas without a lot of natural water sources.

What type of water do bees drink?

Honestly, bees like dirty water. They will sometimes choose a mud puddle or ditch over a provided source. Don’t worry over much about algae or other natural substances in your bees drinking water.

Can bees drink pool water?

Bees can and do drink pool water. They love chlorine and seem to especially like salt water pools or hot tubs. In spite of the chemicals in pool water, there is little danger in it harming your bees. Much of the water in the hive is used for cooling etc anyway.

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16 Comments

  1. Walter Scott says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    Should salt or minerals be added to the water source?

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Some beekeepers like to add a bit of salt ( or livestock salt to bee water). They feel it helps encourage the bees to revisit the water source. I’ve had friends that added a tablespoon of bleach! A little of either certainly would not hurt.

  3. I was wondering if you have ever observed your bees fighting over a water source? We have an existing hive that we have had for a year and just got 2 more nucs 2 weeks ago. We have plenty of watering areas around the yard for the bees, 4 of them right in our bee yard. For the past few days bees have been fighting with each other over water. Occasionally one will fly around to each bee in the watering station and shoo them away and even attempt to drag them out. Is this normal behavior?

  4. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    As a matter of fact I have noticed it occasionally . Just bossy bees.. LOL

  5. Tim Kaylor says:

    If you have an open water sources, how do you prevent mosquito infestations?

  6. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Hi Tim, If it is a smaller container-you can dump it out occasionally. I keep a couple of goldfish in my small water gardens. I have also used those mosquito dunks with no apparent problems.

  7. How do you prevent the bees from taking over your bird baths?

  8. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    They are thirsty. Give them a better place to drink. A small water garden etc with a shallow end .

  9. How close should the water source you provide be to the beehive?

  10. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    As long as you do not have a swimming pool or water feature that you are keeping the bees away from – it does not have to be close. My water garden that the bees use is about 100 ft from the hives. However, during hot summer time there is a constant “bee highway” of traffic between the hives and the water garden. It’s okay to put water close to the hive if you want – but it is not required.

  11. I have a concrete tank with a float valve. Which way would be better to keep maintained, an aireator or goldfish?

  12. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Either way, adding plants and a couple of fish would look better long term.

  13. Mark Jacim says:

    Will bees drown if I just use a smooth plastic bowl for drinking water? I’m concerned about them slipping in and not being able to climb out due to the slick plastic.

  14. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    They could. Add some floating material or stones to provide safe drinking spots and they will be more likely to use the source.

  15. Stephanie Diaz says:

    My bees seem to love drinking water with a spicy pepper sitting in the container. Is this normal?

  16. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Well, I don’t know if it is normal but it is interesting. LOL

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