“Water collection by honey bees
Water has several uses in a honey bee hive. During certain times of the year foragers find a source of water, fill their crops, and ferry it home. The number of bees foraging for water depends on the needs of the colony. If the in-hive workers accept the water quickly from the foragers, the foraging bees sense that the need is still high, and they will go back for another load. If the in-hive workers are slow about “unloading” the water, the foragers sense that the need for water has lessened and fewer bees will return for more.
Bees find water in a number of places including damp rocks, branches, muddy puddles, pond edges, and drops adhering to vegetation. They swallow the water and store it in their crops before flying home. The water is transferred to the waiting in-hive workers through the process of trophallaxis—the direct transfer from one bee to another.
Bees rarely store water, but bring it in as needed. In the heat of summer it is used for evaporative cooling. The water is spread in a thin film atop sealed brood or on the rims of cells containing larvae and eggs. The in-hive workers then fan vigorously, setting up air currents which evaporate the water and cool the interior of the hive. The process is similar to the human-designed air conditioner.
Nurse bees, who feed the developing larvae, also have a high demand for water. The nurses consume large amounts of pollen, nectar, and water so that their hypopharyngeal glands can produce the jelly that is used to feed the larvae, and to a lesser extent, other bees in the hive.
A third use for water occurs in the winter. Stored honey—especially honey high in glucose—tends to crystallize as it dries. Bees need water to dilute the crystals back into liquid before they can eat it. The same occurs if a beekeeper feeds crystalline sugar to bees as a winter supplement: the bees need to dissolve the crystals before they can eat the sugar.”