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Water Foraging Bees – A Hot Weather Nuisance

Posted On Jan 26, 2014

The summer months bring hundreds of calls from people throughtout Arizona experiencing an increased number of African honeybees and wasps at their fountains, swimming pools, bird baths, ponds, leaky sprinkler heads, and sprinkler systems, etc. These bees typically settle and drink water for 30 or 45 seconds and then fly away. These bees are taking water back to their established colonies to keep the beeswax that makes up the honeycomb from melting. Honeybees store their nectar/honey, pollen (bee bread) and developing babies (brood) in the cells of the beeswax honeycomb. If the temperature exceeds 86F to 92F the wax will begin to melt, causing the bees to lose the structure that contains their food stores and offspring. For these reasons, honeybees will send out a lot of water foragers to bring back water to pour on the honeycomb, then the bees will line up facing the same direction and fan their wings to cause evaporation of the water and keep the honeycomb cool, like an evaporative cooler.

Colonies tend to be more aggressive during the hot summer months and more irritable due to the constant struggle to maintain their honeycomb and the large number of workers that are sent out to forage for water accomplish this task. If you are in the proximity of an established colony, expect it to be in a much more aggressive and irritable state. If you are aware of an established colony in proximity, it should be exterminated immediately to prevent harm to humans, pets or livestock. If you are unsure of the colonies location, you may wish to have your property inspected to eliminate the possibility of any direct threat. In fact, we strongly advise that you do so.

Most commonly, you will see water foraging bees in the morning and evening with fewer being present during the hottest part of the day, depending on how hot it is. These water foraging bees may be individually aggressive, protecting their water site, but will not attack in mass. They are simply gathering water and have no reason to try to defend the water source as they would their home colonies. You may have water foraging bees from many different colonies at the same water source.

There is no perfect solution for water foraging bees other than to eliminate the water, or the bees’ access to the water. Otherwise, there are a few things you can try, none of which is 100% successful. They are not listed in order of effectiveness:

1. As stated above, you can either eliminate the water or eliminate the access to the water for at least 4 days to a week. This may require multiple attempts over a period of time.

2. Change the alkalinity of the water with baking soda. You can get an alkalinity test kit and chart from any pool supply store in your local area. Consult your local pool service or supplier for information on the effects of this procedure on your particular type of pool and its structural surfaces.

3. Purchase a light colored, plastic pan, such as a dish pan or kitty litter pan, place some clean, rough, fist-sized rocks in the pan. Place the pan as close to the area where the bees are currently foraging as possible. Put water, flavored with honey (1-2 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water),into the pan. You must continue to keep this honey-laced water in the pan until the bees begin using it preferentially. Once you see that more bees are using the pan with the honey-laced water than the pool, fountain, etc., you can slowly move the pan away from the original water source at a rate of about 1′ per hour, until you get the pan to a less intrusive spot. Once the bees are trained to use the pan, you can use plain water, but you MUST KEEP WATER IN THE PAN, all the time, or the bees will go back to using the original water source. Make sure you don’t cover the rocks with water. The bees have to have a place to land and hold on to so they can get their mouth parts to the water, but keep their bodies dry and out of the water.

4. Nightly, scrub the hard surfaces of the site where the bees are landing with a very mild solution of vinegar & water. This will reduce the pheromone the bees have individually applied to the site that helps them find their way back to this specific area.

5. In a hand-held spray bottle with about a one quart capacity, mix in a couple ounces of Wright’s Liquid Smoke with water. You can add glycerin to make it last longer on the surface, if it won’t damage or stain the area to which you are applying it. A couple of hours before you are going to be in your pool or spa, etc., begin spraying this smokey smelling solution around the dry areas, as close to the area where the bees are gathering to forage for water, as possible. You will have to re-apply this as the smokey smell diminishes, but this will help deter the bees from using your water source while you are trying to be in the area. You may have to adjust the ratio of liquid smoke to water until you find the most effective concentration. Avoide direct contact with the water.

None of these suggestions really works for paper wasps. Your pool maintenance person can put an additive in your pool that lessens the surface tension of the water so the wasps aren’t able to land on the surface without drowning. Consult your local pool service provider Other than that, the best solution is to locate where the wasps are nesting and have them exterminated.

These suggestions may be helpful, we hope so. Unfortunately, whether or not there are natural water sources like mud puddles, ponds, etc. available to them, the bees still need water when it’s hot and will go to un-natural sources if they are forced to do so. You may have the only suitable water source for miles and if that is the case, none of the above suggestions will be very helpful. As the temperature decreases or the availability of natural water sources increases, such as during monsoons, you will experience a decrease in water foraging bees and wasps.