Why are Bees Attracted to Pool Water?

by Leslie Reason on July 19, 2022

swimming pool

The temperature’s perfect, you’ve tested the pH, and the new flamingo floatie is even blown up! So, it’s pool time, right? Well, maybe not…

If you’ve ever had an issue with honeybees using your pool for a water source, you’re not alone.

Every summer as temperatures climb, beekeeper’s get asked how do I keep the bees out of my or my neighbor’s pool? Most have tried placing a bucket of fresh clean tap-water out closer to the hive, even putting a stick in there so they have somewhere to land, and although, they’ve been provided with a closer and cleaner water source, they still seem to prefer the pool water. Why?

There are a few studies available, but I suppose the quick and simple answer is, Salt.

The issue, the honeybee’s flower-based diet only has a small number of micronutrients, therefor there’s a hypothesis that the honeybee will forage for water from brackish dirty puddles and even your swimming pool, for the minerals they’re needing.

bee drinking in puddle of water

One study used the proboscis extension reflex (PER) response, to measure the bee’s reaction to several different solutions, which included Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium, as they are essential nutrients to the colony. They also included phosphate since it can be a foraging deterrent. 

  • Sodium & Magnesium – the bees showed significant preference to the Sodium, but still showed a strong response to the Magnesium.    
  • Potassium & Phosphate – the bees were adverse, and with the Phosphate the PER responses were only for the lowest concentrations, which suggests a way to deter bees from visiting contaminated water.
In another study, using deionized water as a control and adding minerals at an 1% concentration, the bees showed a preference to water containing sodium over the plain deionized water. It was also found that the bees dietary needs and foraging of micronutrients changed throughout the seasons.

Since pollen is a rich source of Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium, when these nutrients were offered in the summer months, there was no interest shown, but when offered in autumn all three were popular, since pollen was on the decline.

Both studies I looked at were very interesting and seemed to have similar results.

I know this doesn’t solve the issue of how to keep the bees away from the pool, but at least now you know why they prefer the pool water. Plus, you can be happy knowing the water in your pool is helping to keep a colony of honeybees healthy and strong somewhere nearby.

Sources:
Journal of Experimental Biology: Salt preferences of honey bee water foragers https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/article/219/6/790/16697/Salt-preferences-of-honey-bee-water-foragers

Royal Entomological Society: Seasonality of salt foraging in honey bees (Apis Mellifera)  https://resjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/een.12375

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