Just like every other living creature, honey bees need access to water. They use water for evaporative cooling in the hive, for making royal jelly, and for diluting honey in the winter time so they can process it properly. Bees seem to enjoy dirty, gross, or chlorinated water. They love puddles of dirty water, water with green slime, and the neighbor’s pool. I’ve read several reasons why bees want dirty water and I don’t know which are true, so I’ll list them here:
1. Nectar and pollen are good carbohydrate and protein sources but bees still need vitamins and minerals, some of which can be found in dirt, and hence, dirty water.
2. Bees process warm water easier than cold water and standing water is warmer than cold water, and just happens to also be dirtier.
3. The “dirty” water has more of a smell that bees can detect and they use this to find water.
4. Standing water has less predators, moving water such as streams have fish and carnivorous insects that could eat bees. The “dirty” part is just a side effect of still water.
5. Accessing standing, still water means there is less chance of being swept away and drowning.
Regardless of the reason, the bees have a definite preference. This can be especially problematic if the bees are massing around someone’s pond or pool or hot tub and they are uncomfortable with the presence of bees. I’ve read they will even defend their watering areas, though I’ve seen honey bees, carpenter bees, hornets, and wasps all drinking from our bird feeder at the same time (good job sharing, ladies!). For our bees we have set up a bird feeder close to the hives and whenever I fill it with water I add some dirt and mud. We put rocks in it so the bees have something to hold onto when they are drinking. Here is a picture of the bird feeder and a close up of a honey bee drinking. Check out her long red tongue!