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How To Keep Bees From Drowning: Bee-Safe Water

If you’re like me, the sight of tiny bee corpses floating on the pool after a hot day is upsetting. Bees are, after all, critical to sustaining life on our planet. Fortunately, there are some simple solutions so that these invaluable insects can drink safely and go about their work of pollinating crops and making honey.  Humans and bees can efficiently work in harmony with each other, and both benefit.

All that a bee requires to fly away safely is to either remain dry while drinking, or if they do fall in, some method to crawl out and dry off. Unless it is too exhausted to fly, a bee should be able to take off again once its wings are fully dry.

There are some really simple and practical ways to create bee-safe water points on your property and keep bees from drowning.

Why Do Bees Drown?

When bees land to drink, they may get their wings wet. If this happens, they can’t take off from the water as they are too waterlogged and heavy to get airborne. Their only option then is to flutter about on the surface of the water and search for some way to crawl out. If the sides of the water source are too slippery and steep, they will eventually become exhausted and drown. For this reason, swimming pools and buckets are particularly hazardous to bees.

Why Do Bees Need Water?

Like us, bees need water to sustain themselves.  However, that is not the only reason they are so active around water on hot days. They also need to carry water back to the hive to cool it and help maintain the humidity inside the brood nest area, especially when it is very dry outside.  By spreading water and flapping their wings, they are collectively able to keep the hive cool through evaporation. Bees need to collect water safely so that they can continue to perform this vital function.

Why Are There So Many Bees In My Swimming Pool?

Strangely, bees seem to prefer chlorinated water to clean water. They also love saltwater swimming pools and slightly dirty water, like ponds. It may be the strong smell of treated water over clean water, but whatever the reason, it can be a challenge to keep bees away from your pool – unless you provide some other more attractive bee-safe alternatives.

What is Bee-Safe Water?

It is simple to create safe water points for the bees in your area. There is no need to make any huge changes to existing bodies of water or buy anything. To make your existing pools and troughs bee-safe is simple, and some minor adaptations will save many little lives.

How To Make Some Of The Most Hazardous Water Supplies Bee-Safe

Swimming Pools

Not only is it dangerous for the bees themselves to land in your swimming pool, but it is also not ideal for humans to possibly get stung while swimming. Fortunately, the solution for both is simple. Any foam floatation device can be left in your pool while you are not using it. The foam-like material will provide traction for a waterlogged bee that needs to crawl out of deep water.

 A pool noodle is ideal for this and can be purchased very inexpensively at any Dollar Store. If left in the water, they will not dirty your pool and provide the perfect little life raft for stranded bees.

If there are bees around while you are swimming, the best to simply splash some water onto any solid area outside the pool. Although the water will evaporate quickly, it will be sufficient for bees to drink from while you are cooling off. Bees will often naturally congregate around any little puddles of pool water surrounding the pool.

Bird Baths

The edges of a birdbath are often too steep and slippery for bees to crawl out from. Luckily the surface area of a birdbath is much less than a swimming pool, so if you provide any type of ‘bee ramp’, it is highly likely that the drowning bee will quickly locate it.

An easy way to make your birdbath bee-safe is to simply put a piece of driftwood or sloped pottery on one edge of the birdbath to create a ramp. Obviously, this should not inhibit birds from enjoying a splash in their spa and only needs to be on one side.

Another idea is to make the inside of your birdbath non-slip. That way, you can also make it extra colorful and an attractive feature in your garden. Be sure to ONLY use latex or acrylic paints for the inside of the basin area. Oil-based paint would be toxic for both your bird and bee visitors. Add a few handfuls of gritty sand to the color before you apply it, and voila, it will be much easier for bees to find their footing and get out after having a drink.

Buckets

Buckets are one of the most hazardous water sources for bees. Besides being steep, the sides are notoriously slippery, and a bee that lands in a bucket of water has a very slim chance of escape. Luckily there are some ways you can make these bee death traps less dangerous.

  1. Throw some Styrofoam peanuts into the water. This should only be done when there is no chance that any other pet or livestock will drink from the bucket. The floating Styrofoam creates ideal little life rafts for bees to safely land, drink and fly away.
  2. Drop a sponge into the water. A sponge will float just below the water’s surface, so when bees land, they will not be submerged. Be sure to clean out the water frequently, though, because sponges left too long can rot.
  3. Put a stick or small branch in buckets. Waterlogged bees will ‘swim’ about trying to find a way to climb out of a bucket. If they can climb up some type of branch, they can rest in the sun above the bucket rim until they are dry enough to fly.
  4. If you do have many buckets that contain water standing around on your property, you can give bees a much better chance of escaping if the plastic sides are not so slippery. You can add some traction to the insides of buckets by scrubbing them with some coarse-grained sandpaper. Those are usually in the 40-50 grit range. This method should only be used as a backup because the 90° angle of the sides of a bucket will still be challenging for a bee to climb even with the added grip.

Livestock Drinking Troughs

When it is hot, and few other safe options are available, bees will often gather at the waterline on the sides of livestock troughs. This is extremely hazardous to them because if they fall in, there is no way out. Farmers are reluctant to put floats or anything loose into the water because their large animals may ingest them while drinking.

My solution to this challenge has been to create a thick lifeline rope tightly tied to the nearest secure object – for me, usually the fence pole next to the trough. The rope I use is recycled baling twine from feed bales used over winter. I plait multiple strands of twine together to form a thick, rough rope. Be sure to tie off the end of your plait so that it doesn’t fray loose.

 One end is secured to the fence post, and the other end dangles into the side of the trough. It shouldn’t be too long that a beast will mistake it for food and try to chew it off but should make contact with the surface of the water. Stranded bees buzz about on top of the water surface for a long time, and if they encounter the lifeline, they will be able to pull themselves out.

How To Provide Bee-Safe Water Sources

Any shallow dish of water where bees can land, refresh and then fly away are ideal. Some people use pie pans or plant trays. Any shallow dish that you have will be fine.

There are several things that you can add to your dish to make it perfect for bees.

  • Fill it with rocks so that there are shallow places for the bees to drink water. If you don’t have stones lying around, you can purchase them in the gardening department of places like Home Depot
  • Throw in some corks! This is a fun way to recycle all the corks you’ve collected that may be just gathering in a drawer. Fill your shallow dish with water and drop in all your corks. The bees will bob about on their tiny rafts while being able to drink safely.
  • Use marbles. Many parents with grown-up kids find that they have bags of marbles lying around. Turn them into an attractive bee oasis by putting them into your shallow dish and filling it so that the marbles are not entirely covered. The marbles glitter in the sunlight, and it can be a beautiful garden feature.
  • If you use a deeper container, like a large metal bowl, you can add some floating pond plants like one of the Azolla variations. These will not only blend in perfectly with your garden, but bees will be safe when landing and taking off.
  • Fill a honeybird drinker with water. This is one of the safest methods of providing water to bees. If bees struggle to find it at first, you can add a little bit of sugar to the water to attract them, but it is never wise to add honey.  The honey you are adding would be from other hives, and it’s best not to transmit bee’ germs’ from one hive to another in case there were any bee pathogens in the one you feed to the visiting group.
  • Provide some Bee Life-life rafts – If you have a garden fountain or larger water feature, you could also consider making a few bee rafts to float on the water. They need only be the size of some small plates, are usually made of thin slices of wood or plastic that will float just below the surface of the water and provide landing bees with a platform to remain dry while they drink. You can drill a few holes into the raft to create multiple little drinking areas in your floating raft.

How To Save A Drowning Bee

You see a bee struggling frantically about on top of some water and want to save it. You should, but proceed carefully. Don’t ever try to rescue the struggling bee with your hands. Your natural reaction is to provide help as fast as possible, but the confused bee may perceive its sudden rescue as a threat, and you could get stung for your efforts.

Look around for something that you can use to lift the drowning bee out of the pool gently. A branch or even a large leaf will be perfect. It’s only the bee’s wings that are waterlogged. Its legs will gratefully grab onto any lifeline that it is offered. Once you have lifted the bee out of the water, place it in a sunny spot, and it will fly off as soon as its wings are dry.

If it is too weak to fly or late in the day and the sun is fading, you can offer the near-drowning victim a few drops of sugar water. This will give it some energy to take off. If it is getting dark, you can place the bee in a well-ventilated box for the night and release it early the following day.

Conclusion

Each individual bee has a vital role to play in ensuring the survival of the entire hive. There are many things that we can do to prevent bees from drowning and help them thrive. Providing floatation devices on large bodies of water and specifically creating bee-safe drinking features goes a long way in protecting these busy little insects.

References

https://www.almostoffgrid.com/blogs/almost-off-grid/providing-a-water-source-for-bees

https://www.buddhabeeapiary.com/blog/bee-watering-station

http://bees.huchicapital.com/2019/04/01/creating-the-best-water-source-for-your-bees/

https://www.honeyflow.com/blogs/beekeeping-basics/how-to-keep-bees-hydrated

https://www.southeastbeeremoval.com/diy-tips/diy-tip-6-how-to-get-rid-of-bees-at-your-swimming-pool

Frank Pearmain

As a homesteader, survivalist, and previously a safari guide in Africa, I have extensive bush and wilderness experience. I am passionate about living a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle and continuously learn and strive toward that goal!

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