🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

African Bee (Apis mellifera Scutellata)

African Honey Bee drinking water at my wildlife pond

We have two colonies of bees living on our smallholding and during summer my wildlife pond is a great attraction for them. Water is very important to a hive. Bees rarely store water, but bring it in as needed, so it is vital to provide fresh water to them continuously. They also use water to control the humidity of the colony, not just the temperature. Besides my pond, I have various containers around the garden for them. They’re a bit of a nightmare to photograph, don’t sit still for very long and even crawled up my phone a couple of times when I got too close! They are actually fearless little creatures, with no fear for their own safety, everything is done with the colony in mind.

South Africa is home to two sub-species or races of honeybees which are indigenous to the country: Apis mellifera Scutellata (or “African bee”) and Apis mellifera Capensis (or “Cape bee”). The Cape bee is generally confined to the western and southern Cape regions particularly referred to as the Fynbos region running in an imaginary line between Vredendal on the western Atlantic coastline across to Willowvale on the eastern Indian Ocean coastline. The African bee covers the region to the north of this area although there is hybrid zone overlapping the two regions where A.m. capensis and A.m. scutellata hybridize.

A couple of bees sipping water from the safety of a log placed in the pond

The African bee is an aggressive bee with a hardy strain and capable of producing large crops of honey. It has more of a yellow striped abdomen compared to A.m. capensis. Only the queens are fertile; worker bees are infertile when the queen is present. (Not to be confused with the Africanized honeybee (AHB) found across south, central, and north America).

The Cape bee tends to be a more docile bee (although can also become aggressive when provoked), distinguished from the African bee by a darker abdomen and are sometimes referred to as “black bees”. It has a unique characteristic in that the worker bees (females) have the ability to produce both male and female offspring and thus able to re-queen a colony which has become queenless.
—Info from SABIO (South African Bee Industry Organisation)

"HONEY BEES are not pests; they are a highly developed species of the animal world and contribute significantly to the sustainability of the eco-system in all areas – urban environment, farming areas and bush lands. In Africa alone there are an estimated 3000 species of bees and throughout the world some 20,000 different species.

Scutellata is the infamous “African Killer Bee” which is well known for its ferociousness and hard work. Its ferocity is ingrained from centuries of adapting to the harsh hot African sun, and constant irritation of robbing by vandals intent on stealing its plentiful supply of honey without regard to professional care and attention. A properly managed hive of African bees can be easily and meekly handled with the proper care, equipment and patience. It is these bees which have become notorious as the African Killer Bee in South America and southern North America after they were introduced from a Pretoria apiary for experimental breeding purposes.

Capensis was restricted naturally to the Western and Eastern Cape regions until unsuspecting and ambitious Western Cape Pollinators introduced them to the Transvaal region in the 1980’s. Cape Bees are unique in that the worker bees are able to reproduce their own kind through egg laying, whilst Scutellata does not do this. The Cape Bees are also invasive bees which roam and invade the more prolific and productive Scutellata hives where they take over and eventually destroy the Scutellata swarm. The introduction of the Capensis Bee into the Scutellata region created total havoc amongst the beekeeping industry in that region. A Scutellata hive with Cape Bees has to be destroyed to prevent the spread of the Cape Bees to other hives."
- This info from "Southerns Beekeeping Association"

Easy ways to give Honey Bees water
  1. Frisbee With Rocks - Put a frisbee full of clean rocks (find them in your yard) underneath a faucet outside, turn the faucet on so it drips once per minute. Over the day it will fill up and provide fresh water for the bees.
  2. Glass Pebbles - Most art stores have those bags of glass pebbles you can buy. Buy 1-2 bags of these pebbles and put them in a large (6 or more inches) but shallow container. Fill this with fresh water daily and place it near your garden or outside in a natural area of your yard. Bonus if you put some water-loving plants like cattails, water loving ferns, etc
  3. Birdbath - Take over the bird bath and decorate with twigs, rocks, pebbles, and wine corks. Add some green ferns or moss to add a bit of colour.
Bees use water for
  1. Cooling - In the heat of summer it is used for evaporative cooling. Similar to human-designed air conditions, the bees spread a thin film of water atop sealed brood (baby bee cells) or on the rims of cells containing larvae and eggs. The workers inside the hive then fan vigorously, setting up air flow which evaporated the water and cools the interior of the hive.
  2. Humidity - Worker bees use water to control the humidity of the colony, not just the temperature. 
  3. Utilise Stored Food - Bees need water to dilute stored honey that has crystallized (become too high in glucose) or in the case where a beekeeper feeds them dried sugar crystals, they need water to dissolve the sugar. Without water, they can't access these food sources.
  4. Larvae Food - Another type of bee in the hive is the nurse bee, who feeds the developing larvae. They consume large amounts of pollen, nectar, and water so that their hypopharyngeal glands can produce the jelly that is used to feed the larvae. A larvae diet can consist of water up to 80 percent the first day of larval growth and about 55 percent on the sixth day.
  5. Digestion - They need it in the digestion and metabolization of their food, as do most organisms.
(This info from Seedles)

For the past few months, the pond has been leaking badly, losing half its water in just a couple of days. So I stopped filling it every day and left it until it reached a level where the water wasn't dropping any more. You can see the line (brown area) just below the water where the leaking stopped. I then applied a few coats of eco-friendly pond sealer, waited a couple of days to let it dry and then re-filled the pond. It's not leaking much now, but I still have not totally stopped the leaking!  I still have to have a small amount of water flowing into the pond daily to keep it filled. At this point I'm giving up and waiting to see if it gets any worse. The leaking I mean. If it does, I have two options - empty the pond COMPLETELY and gunite it like a swimming pool or - close it up! That would be a disaster for all the water-loving birds I have in my garden as well as all the insects and other little reptiles living in the area.

The water lilies don't seem to have suffered any adverse effects from being exposed to the sun for a few days, and started flowering as soon as the pond was full again. The water looks lovely and crystal clear against the black back-drop of the sealer and it has enticed me a couple of times to take a plunge. Swimming with all the frogs and naiads (dragonfly larvae) is really exciting!



  1. Interesting to see the bees at your pond. I see flies and wasps at mine but I can't bring to mind seeing a bee. They must get their moisture elsewhere.

    1. My bees get water from a couple of places in my garden John, amongst others some watering cans that are always full. It is sad that we don't see so many bees anymore.

  2. I agree it is sad about the bees. I see less and less in my garden every year and put in a bunch of bee and butterfly friendly plants this past fall. It feels like a very small gesture though among the ocean of manicured lawns around me.

    1. Aaah, I know Waxwing, but all our small gestures together will surely bring relief to their plight. Thanks so much for stopping by!



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