Make a bee waterer and help hydrate our pollinators, but don’t add sugar

bee waterer system in bowl with marbles

A single bee tends to at least 2,000 flowers daily, with their tiny wings beating 10,000 times per minute, carrying pollen, and dramatically assisting our food supply. All that work makes the bees thirsty, especially on a hot day.

Bees need access to safe water sources, they often risk drowning in birdbaths or being eaten at rivers and lakes among birds, fish, frogs, and other wildlife. This is why they often fly around our clotheslines and may even land on us if we are in an outdoor pool on a hot day.

Kim Flottum, the editor of the Bee Culture magazine, writes in her book The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden: “Water is used to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey when producing larval food, for evaporation cooling during warm weather, and for a cool drink on a hot day.”

“Bees know exactly where to return for the same water source. Foragers seem to seek water sources that are scented,” Flottum says.

One solution to this problem is to add marbles or pebbles to a bowl or pan and then add water. The marbles give the bees a spot to land so they don’t drown when they come to drink.

Don’t add sugar

Unfortunately, a myth had spread through social media largely originating from a fake quote of Sir David Attenborough, a well-known broadcaster and naturalist. 

fake Sir David Attenborough quote suggesting adding sugar to water will help bees

The quote not only contains false information but it is also potentially dangerous. This is why the BBC requested that Facebook remove the post, which they did, however, some websites have already copied the information and continue to share it as a genuine quote.

Adding sugar to the water can cause harm in several ways.

The first way that it can cause harm is that bees take shortcuts. If a bee can get sugar from water rather than by visiting hundreds of flowers then it will take that shortcut and will continue returning to that sugar source instead of visiting and pollinating flowers. Other bees will quickly learn of the sugar source. In a very short time, a bowl of sugar water could attract hundreds of bees.

Not only do these bees not visit and pollinate flowers, but the honey bees will store the sugar water in their hive along with honey essentially watering down the honey. Beekeepers do not want you feeding bees sugar.

Not only can sugar water harm bees in this way, but it can also harm birds and other creatures too.

Don’t add honey

Some people that have accepted the misleading advice to add sugar to water have decided that the next logical step is to add honey.

Not only does honey water have the same problems as sugar water, but it can lead to the destruction of entire hives.

Honey can contain spores of a bacteria called Paenibacillus which causes AFD (American Foulbrood disease). It is deadly to bees. The bees will take the honey back to their hive and if it contains the pathogen it is likely to infect the entire hive.

Coffee brown larvae, a sign of AFD

Coffee-brown larvae are a sign of AFB

The treatment for this is to burn the entire hive. Species of wild bees may die and continue to spread the pathogen.

The disease is fairly rare, but it is extremely deadly. For this reason feeding honey to bees is illegal in Australia.

Hydrate the bees, but don’t add sugar and honey.