These triple-digit temperatures make us all thirst for water.
Honey bees need water, too.
If you see them taking a sip from your birdbath or taking a dip in your pool, the "sip" means they're collecting water for their hive, and the "dip" could mean they're dying, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water," he points out. "Thus, they need to drink water routinely as we do. Additionally, water (or sometimes nectar) is critical for diluting the gelatinous food secreted from the head glands of nurse bees, so that the queen, developing larvae, drones, and worker bees can swallow the food. They use water to keep the brood nest area at the proper relative humidity, especially when it gets hot and dry outside the hive. Water droplets, placed within the brood nest area, are evaporated by fanning worker bees and that cools (air conditions) the brood nest area to keep the eggs and developing brood at the critical 94 degrees Fahrenheit required for proper development."
On extremely dry, hot days, all bee foraging except for water will cease, Mussen says. "Under those conditions it has been estimated that the bees may be bringing back nearly a gallon of water a day."
Unlike us, honey bees cannot simply turn on a faucet. "They will fly up to nearly five miles to find a suitable watering source," Mussen says. "Suitable to honey bees might not be suitable to us, but if it is moist, it may be visited. Suitable to the neighbors is a separate question. Honey bees can become quite a nuisance if they visit drippy irrigation lines or hose connections, birdbaths, pet water dishes, swimming pools, fountains, or wet laundry and the like. The water foragers become habituated to those sites. If you try to dissuade the bees by drying up the source for a while, it becomes evident that the bees will visit the site every so often so they'll be around quickly after the water is returned."What to do? "People have tried to use repellents in the water, but the bees are likely to use the odor as an attractant when attempting to relocate the water source," Mussen points out. "Some people have had success keeping bees and wasps out of their swimming pools with very lightweight oils or monomolecular films--their purpose is to prevent mosquitoes from being able to breathe. But, if the water is splashed very much, you'll require a new layer."
And all those bees struggling in your swimming pool? "Not all moribund honey bees in a swimming pool are there because they were trying to get a drink. Every day, approximately 1,000 old honey bees from each colony die naturally. This normally occurs during foraging, and the bees just flutter down to the ground, sidewalk, driveway, parking lot, or whatever they were passing over. Some flutter into swimming pools. They are not dead, yet, so they can and do inflict stings on people who bump into them on the surface of the water. "
Beekeepers should make sure there's a watering source on their property so the bees won't hunt for water elsewhere, Musssen says. It should be available all year around. "Once the bees are habituated to the site, most of them will use that source."
One good thing to know: Bees don't like to get their feet wet. In the Garvey birdbath, we have floating wine corks just for the bees. They can land on a cork to sip water or simply sip from the edge of the birdbath. Besides wine corks, you can also use a stone, a twig or a flat chunk of cork. The Melissa Garden, a privately owned garden in Healdsburg that was designed by internationally distinguished bee garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, includes a flat floating cork in a fountain. On any given day, you'll see bees claiming it as their own.
Ever seen honey bees foraging for water on your outdoor clothesline?
When Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the University of California, Davis, addresses beekeeping associations, he tells them to "always provide water for your bees on your property. Otherwise, they will visit the neighbor's hanging laundry, bird bath, swamp cooler, dog dish, leaky hose connection, etc."
Bees collect nectar, pollen, propolis (plant resin) and water for their colonies. On very hot days, you'll see scores of bees at a water fountain, bird bath, or pond.
Kim Flottum, editor of the Bee Culture magazine, writes in his book, The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden: "A summer colony needs at least a quart (liter) of water every day, and even more when it's warm."
Flottum points out: "Water is as necessary to your bees as it is to your pets and to you. Whatever watering technique you choose for your bees, the goal is to provide a continuous supply of fresh water. This means while you are on vacation for a couple of weeks, when you get busy and forget to check, and especially when it's really, really hot--bees always need water."
With temperatures soaring to 100 degrees today in Yolo and Solano counties, that's good advice.
Mussen and Flottum acknowledge that bees are industrious and will find water somewhere even if their regular source is unavailable. "Water is used to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey when producing larval food, for evaporation cooling during warm weather, and for a cool drink on a hot day," Flottum writes in his book.
We've watched bees gathering water from our bird bath. We've seen hawks, doves, squirrels, crows, finches and bees sipping water there--as well as our cat, Xena the Warrior Princess. Not all at the same time, though! The Cooper's Hawk reigns supreme.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, bees can sip water from a slanted board propped against a slowly dripping faucet, or from the specially designed watering devices at the nearby Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that doubles as an educational resource.
Bees know exactly where to return for the same water source. "Foragers seem to seek water sources that are scented," Flottum says.
This could be from a roadside ditch, storm drain, fish pond, dog dish or bird bath.
"Foragers will mark unscented sources of water with their Nasonov pheromone so others can locate the source too," Flottum writes.
Flottum's book is one of the "must-have" books for a beekeeper's library or for anyone wanting to learn more about bees.
You can read more about bees in Mussen's newsletters, from the UC apiaries, posted on his website.
The declining bee population: Does chlorine in a swimming pool have anything to do with it?
Ever since PBS NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels interviewed Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and several other UC scientists and bee folks on the declining honey bee population, it's been busy on the bee front.
Everyone seems to have a theory on the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) and why the bee population is declining.
One person, known as "DK," posted a comment on the PBS NewsHour site that maybe chlorine has something to do with it.
"Every morning, when I sweep (skim) the family pool here in Sherman Oaks (Los Angeles), Calif., at least 3-4 bees from a hive in a nearby hedge are dead in the water, and I don't think it's from drowning," DK wrote. "It's like the La Brea Tar Pits were eons ago: The sparkling pool looks like potable water, but it just lures them to their deaths...When I "googled" this subject, it turned out a farmer in the San Joaquin valley who was experiencing colony collapse discovered that a neighboring farmer was using a chlorine based pesticide in his irrigation water on the adjacent watermelon patch; when I read further into it, the article said chlorine was a suspected 'neuro-toxin" for the bees, and that corresponds with my empirical observations. The chemical component also might explain why only 25% of bee colonies are experiencing this problem."
"So, scientists in northern California and elsewhere, that's your clue: CHLORINE (and its derivatives). It's worth a look."
Mussen, a noted expert on honey bees, responded:
"I read with interest your concern about a possible connection between chlorine and our honey bee problems. I believe that you are correct that honey bees actually prefer a bit salty water to pure water, so they might be attracted to your swimming pool water. However, honey bees do not like to get their feet wet when collecting water, if they can help it. They stand on the dry and drink from the film of water caused by capillarity. If you find one drinking water near your pool, on the poll apron, pool wall or a floating toy, check their behavior.
"The bees you find in the pool probably were not there for drinking purposes. You noted that you have a colony living nearby. Each day that colony raises about 1,000 newly emerging adult workers and around six weeks later those 1,000 bees will die of old age. They do not die in the hive. They tend to keep foraging until they flutter to the ground (lawn, driveway, sidewalk, pool, etc.) wherever they may be. Those bees are not yet dead, so for a little while they still can sting if bumped against or stepped on. That is most likely why they keep ending up in your pool.
"In reference to your statement about chlorine in pesticides harming a beekeeper's bees, there have been a succession of pesticides with chlorine incorporated into their structures that are toxic to bees. The group named organochlorides are pretty much obsolete, but a new group of chemicals, called neonicotinoids, have a chlorine in them. Beekeepers fear those compounds because they become systemic in the plants and are found in the nectar and pollen when the plants bloom. Recently, the systemics have been delivered in irrigation water, since they can be picked up from the soil by the plant roots. In 'chemigation' with underground emitters, you would think that the chemicals would stay away from the bees. But, the systems leak and the bees will forage at the junctions in the pipes and from puddles on the ground. So, the bees get the chemical at field delivery concentrations, not at the much reduced concentrations that end up in the blossoms."
Speaking of water, as any beekeeper will tell you, bees don't like to get their feet wet. Honey bees don't dive into a pool on a hot summer day. They don't head for the sprinklers for a quick shower. They don't stand in water. When they collect water to cool their hives, they stand on the very edge of a water-filled container, such as a birdbath or the lip of a flower pot.
Which reminds us: a recently published children's book (for ages 4 to 10) about honey bees seemed to have it all: colorful illustrations, catchy lines, and educational information about bees.
One look at an illustration, though, and it's apparent that neither the author nor the illustrator know that much about water and honey bees. The illustration clearly shows honey bees walking in water. Three of them. Three of them happily walking in a water-filled birdbath.
"What's wrong with this illustration?" I quizzed a veteran beekeeper. He looked at me as if I'd just asked him the second letter of the alphabet.
"Bees," he said, "don't like to get their feet wet. Those bees in that illustration are walking in water. They don't do that."
No, they don't.
Diners know that a napkin serves a good purpose: touch the lips with it or protect the lap.
Well, honey bees occasionally use a napkin, too. A recent sun break--blue skies, 70-degree temperatures, no rain--resulted in honey bees foraging for water on a rain-soaked napkin on the patio.
They came in twos to stand on the napkin to sip water.
"Water foragers tend to forage at the water source nearest to their colony," writes honey bee expert Norman Gary, emeritus professor of apiculture at UC Davis, in his recently published book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees (BowTie Press).
"Minerals, salts, gases, organic compounds from organisms in the water and other unknown elements influence the bees' preference of water sources," he wrote. "Only the bees know the secret ingredients that determine their choices; otherwise bees would be able to create super-attractive watering holes with special flavors to lure bees away from swimming-pool decks, drinking fountains and birdbaths, where they are sometimes perceived as a problem by beekeepers."
All honey bees are welcome in our yard--with or without a napkin.
The bees are dropping like flies--in swimming pools all over northern California during this triple-digit heat wave.
Honey bees collect water to aircondition their hive. They sip from bird baths, dripping faucets, water-splashed plants and even wet laundry hanging on the line. They return to their colony where they release droplets of water. The buzz of hundreds of wings fanning the hive sounds like hundreds of super-charged fans or a ramped-up swamp cooler.
"This hot weather is really hard on the bees," said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Unfortunately, bees searching for water can fall into swimming pools and perish. Last weekend we netted about a dozen bees from our pool. All survived but one. Another looked like a goner. The water-soaked bee stood on the net--nothing but net--all night long. The next morning she raised her head, spun her wings and buzzed off.
Really, I'm not into bee-ing a "bee lifeguard" or admininistering "bee CPR."