Recently, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Fallon has received several reports of swarming bees.
Swarming occurs when a queen bee leaves a hive, setting off with some of the worker bees in search of a new place to set up a home.
However, after speaking with people seeking help, Extension educators have determined that these bees are not swarming, but are instead looking for water. Bees need a regular supply of fresh water for drinking, preparing food, and for keeping the hive cool. Bees use water for cooling like a swamp cooler: by evaporating the water while air circulates in the hive. Each hive requires about a quart per day with more needed for bigger hives or on hotter days.
Local beekeepers work very hard to be good bee neighbors and try to provide watering sources for the bees on their property; however, when temperatures suddenly rise, the regular water supply might not meet the demand. The situation becomes especially difficult when migratory bees are introduced into the area. Thirsty bees will scout for water sources and communicate what they find to the hive. Unfortunately, these sources might be your animal watering trough, your car wash bucket, or some other undesirable place to have a large number of bees. While this can be a scary sight, the bees are hard at work to keep their home from melting. If bees hang around in a poor location for more than three or four days, talk to your neighborhood beekeeper and see if you can help by establishing your own bee watering system to increase the water supply.
There are several ways to establish water sources for the bees to draw them away from places you prefer not to have them. The best way to help them is by providing a consistently replenished source of water. A bee watering system must be shallow so the bees don’t drown, and the water needs changing daily so it is fresh and clear. A small regular drip onto rocks, mud or a shallow bowl is a great way to help a bee out with a drink. For instance, I added several emitters to my potted plant watering system that drip water onto a series of rocks where it creates tiny pools. You can fill a dish with stones or marbles then fill with water barely covering the rocks. Of course, be mindful of our drought conditions, and do not overwater.
Thirsty bees will be attracted to any fresh water source when they need more water, so do a thirsty bee a favor and give them a place to get a little drink.
Joy Paterson is an extension educator, entomologist and Mason Valley beekeeper.