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Beekeeping in July: Water Foragers

This year really has been extraordinary for beekeeping.  After what seemed like the longest, coldest and wettest winter we have been basking in hot, humid sunshine and apparently have just had one of the driest June months on record.  The bees are loving it and have been bringing in a considerable nectar flow over the past few weeks.

As I’ve discussed before, honey bees have very diverse and varied jobs and one that is often overlooked is that of the “water foragers.”  Water is essential for life and bees are no exception.  They use it to breakdown crystalised honey so that the honey can be consumed; it is used to maintain humidity in the brood nest, which is essential for unsealed brood and of course it hydrates the bees.

The foragers will collect water from the nearest source and carry it back to the hive where it is off loaded to the house bees leaving the foragers free to fly out again for more.

Water will be gathered from condensation within the hive, early morning dew, damp earth, ponds, puddles, next door’s swimming pool/hot tub, in fact anywhere that is available.  They have lived for millions of years and adapted to all sorts of conditions so they will always find a water source.

So how do the water foragers know when it is time to collect water and how do they know when it is time to stop? Very simply the colony tells them.  House bees physically shake the water foragers to alert them that they need to go out and get water.  They do this by placing their front legs on the water foragers’ thorax and give them a good shake.

When the colony has enough hydration they stop helping the water foragers to unload their water, this literally turns off the tap – honey bees are so amazing, I might have said this once or twice before!

Jan Doyle
Newbury & District Beekeepers

 

 

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