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Keeping Cool in the Hive: How Honeybees Chill Out

This article appeared in the July 29, 2016 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Keeping Cool in the Hive: How Honeybees Chill Out

A bee drinking water. Photo by Bartosz Kosiorek.


By Lisa Justice

Special to the Enterprise


As the temperatures are soaring all over the valley this week, people aren’t the only ones suffering in the heat. Animals both wild and domestic are looking to cool off too. But a new study from Cornell University published online in The Journal of Experimental Biology earlier this month reveals that honeybee colonies have multiple strategies for beating the heat.


Researcher Thomas Seeley and his colleagues at Cornell used light bulbs to heat up honeybee hives, then watched how the bees handled the extra heat. They discovered that the bees work together in different ways to try to cool down, particularly to cool the parts of the hive with eggs and young bees.


The bees’ first line of defense is to send adult bees out to collect water. When they return, they pour the water into the mouths of other bees in the hive who then go to the hottest areas and regurgitate the water to hose down and cool off.


Worker bees also use their wings to push hot air out of the hive, while other bees swarm out of the hive to both remove body heat and open up passageways for more hot air to move out.


Typically bees get as much water as they need from the nectar they drink, but in extreme temperatures the communal water needs of the hive increase and water is essential for maintaining a healthy temperature, so bees must bring in extra water. And you can help our local bees by making a simple bee watering station for your garden.


You will need a shallow dish such as a pie pan. A shallow container that can only hold a small amount of water at a time will make it easier to prevent bees from drowning and mosquitos from laying eggs.


Fill the bottom of the dish with small items for the bees to land on like rocks, marbles, corks, or even bottle caps. Then add enough water to rise up between your items, but not to completely submerge them. That way bees can land on the items and sip the water without the risk of drowning.


Now set your bee watering station out in your garden where bees can easily find it. Check the water every day or so and refill as necessary. Now our local bees will stay hydrated and cool in these triple-digit temperatures!



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  • Explorit’s Exploration Gallery is open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. and every Friday, 3:00-6:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free. Come check out the new Nano Mini Exhibition!
  • Save the date—Sunday, August 28 for Final Blast! More details to come!
  • Join us on Wednesday, September 7 at DMG Mori’s auditorium at 7:00 p.m. for a free public lecture with Thor Hanson, author of Feathers: Evolution of a Natural Miracle.
  • Save the date for Explorit’s Major Fall Fundraiser with Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature: How Alexander von Humboldt Revolutionized Our World at the Veterans Memorial Theater on Friday, October 28. Ticketing information to follow.
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