Water Makes a Hive Thrive
Many bees, like these wild western honeybees (Apis mellifera), get much of what they need from the flower nectar they carry back to their hives to make honey. But even though nectar is up to 80 percent water, it doesn’t provide them with nearly enough H20, so the bees must gather and haul that home, too.
These little workaholics of the insect world don’t see so well through their five eyes, so they rely on their sense of smell to find puddles, ponds, lakes, or irrigation ditches. Just about any source will do, even wet laundry. Once they’ve had their fill, sucking the water up through their long, soft tongues, they deliver it to the hive. Before consuming pollen and honey, they use water to dilute them, and some studies suggest that the water itself provides nutrients. The bees also use it for air conditioning, regurgitating water beside the brood nest, then fanning it with their wings so that it evaporates and keeps the temperature of the chamber below 34 degrees Celsius (94 degrees Fahrenheit). On blisteringly hot days, bees forage for nothing but water, gathering up to a gallon a day.
Fortunately, they’re not too picky: Honeybees don’t mind if their water is a little dirty. In fact, they may prefer it tinged with algae or mud. But dirty water of a different kind can harm or kill them. A study published in 2015 by researchers at Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, suggested that one way honeybees consume neonicotinoids—a class of insecticides partly to blame for the global decline in honeybee populations—is by drinking contaminated water from crop puddles.
These particular bees are drinking in a safe spot: photographer Ingo Arndt’s backyard. Arndt, who lives in Germany, collaborated with bee experts to get this striking macro shot. First, they transported the honeybees to a nest in his garden. Then, on hot days, he followed them to a nearby watering hole, camera in hand, to intimately document some of their most important activities.
Ingo Arndt was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and has worked as a professional wildlife photographer since 1992. His photographs have been published in magazines all over the world including GEO, National Geographic, and BBC Wildlife. He has worked on all five continents and spends an average of six months traveling each year. He has won numerous prizes at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions and was awarded the World Press Photo Award in 2005.
Katie Jewett is a science writer, producer, and communications manager at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions where she loves learning something new every day about our planet. Previously, she spent winters in the Colorado Rockies and summers living and working on the water.