Ugh, it's been hot in the Bay this week. We're just not used to this. And neither are our bees. They've been crowding around a plastic plant saucer that's next to the hose bibb in the nursery, drinking until they're puffy with water, then staggering back to the hive. There they distribute the droplets throughout the hive, and fan air over the water to cool the nest, rather like little bee swamp coolers. They'll even put little bits of water in the comb cells to moisten eggs and larvae. How cute is that?
In his book, The Backyard Beekeeper, Kim Flottum says that a summer colony needs at least 1 quart of water every day to cool the hive, to dilute honey for feeding brood, and to liquify crystallized honey (I've also read that they can use up to a gallon a day in hot weather). I don't know how many bees it takes to collect that much water!
It turns out that bees like water with a smell (no surprise; they're critters with highly developed sniffers), and they're attracted to swampy or stagnant water, perfumed water, and water smelling of chlorine (and that is why, my friends, bees drown themselves in swimming pools). Our girls turned up their noses at the fresh water we put next to their hives, and instead flocked to the damp-smelling soil and weeds around the outdoor faucet, and the leafy water in the plastic saucer.
Of course, beekeepers are intrepid inventors, and someone has come out with a fan system for hives called the Bee Cool Ventilator. Anyone out there ever used one?