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

* 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)

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!

© All pics taken in my garden at my wildlife pond (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

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