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fighting about water

2454 Views 12 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Saltybee
I am not a beekeeper, merely a waterer (hence the name). I don't feed them and I don't know where their hive is.

Here's my problem: I have a pond for "my" bees, and for the past year they've been very civilized with each other. However, in the past week or two I have observed some bees fighting with each other, always in a one-on-one fashion. The other day I found just an abdomen on the raft in their pond. Is there something I can do about this? I have looked all over the internet for help with this issue, but all I find is people talking about robbing. I'm not feeding these guys - it is just water. PLAIN water. No sugar. I did find a really old thread from this forum discussing "fighting over water" but it yielded no useful info (other than how to start a minor flame war).

If it matters to anyone, here's the back story: I have a hangar in southern California. The bees decided that a piece of equipment in my hangar was a good water source. I disagreed, but did not want them to die, so I went to the trusty internet to learn how to lure them to a better place outside. Found the Glenn Apiaries web page about making "bee ponds". I did the best I could to make something suitable for them, and I must have done all right because the bees moved out to the outside pond and we all coexist happily now. Well, we did until they started dismembering each other. I'm not sure where their hive is, but I know it is not in my hangar since they always fly in from the south.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps this is just one of those icky parts of nature when things kill each other, but if I can be of help to them I'd like to.


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Bees will kill each other but not usually dismember. Wasps enjoy a bee meal as do many other things.
Probably hornets(AKA yellow jackets), that's why it appears to be bees fighting to you
I've never seen too aggressive fighting, unless like stated above, it's with wasps. Not sure how big the pond and raft is/are but maybe adding a second raft and some visual barrier between them to allow for more watering spots.
Thank you all for the replies! I really appreciate the help :)

We have had what I thought were wasps (big segmented guys with dangling legs) here in the past. Although I haven't seen them in a while, they may have returned and that could be the culprit for the dismemberment. I had assumed the fighting and dismemberment were related, but perhaps they were separate incidents.

The ones I see fighting appear to me to all be honeybees. I *think* I can tell the difference, but I will look much more closely next time I see it going on. It looks to me like one trying to chew the other's wings off. I actually go in with a stick or big tweezers and separate the two if I see it going on. Sometimes I just find a dead bee on the raft, though.

I will take the advice to increase the pond area and have divided pools. Right now they have a 7.5" x 7.5" square vase with a perforated foam raft, surrounded by leafy green plants. I could pretty easily put in another vase and put a plant in between them. They do go through a remarkable amount of water!

Thanks again for the responses. This has been informative.

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You may be sure that many more bees are living because of your water than are dying over it.
Aww - thank you for that. You made my day :)
Some additional ideas - If you do have wasps, the disposable bag wasp traps will draw wasps but not honeybees. I use them 20-30 feet away from my water sources (usually livestyock troughs and my duck kiddie pool) to keep the wasps away from the bees and the livestock. Some wasps are very beneificial. Where I am that's usually anything that isn't a yellowjacket or a honet. Luckily, that's all I ever catch in the traps -- the bad guys.

More water space, more flotation devices, always good.

Another thought would be that it's a drought there and not only are they having trouble finding water, they're having trouble finding food. Especially so if their owner isn't supplementing their food. So, they're very likely to be extra defensive of what resources they can find. Otherwise calm bees acting like the world is coming to an end because they're stressed about a lack of resources. I have 2 hives who were fighting a lot when their supplemental feeding was visible to each other. I found dead bees every day from fighting. When I hid the food inside their hives, no more fighting. The "threat" was gone. These bees are otherwise very calm critters and I can open their hives bare handed and without a veil on. So, defensive is really saying something for them.

Does that make sense? The otherwise coexisting bees are defensive because you're water is their source of a finite much needed resource. Upping the landing space or the overall water space might help!
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Good info! Thank you!

I think you are right about the water being in scarce supply around here, especially with the drought. The earlier versions of my pond would occasionally go dry, and the bees would actually come let me know they were out of water. Not in English, of course. Anyway, I am going to put out a second pond tomorrow.

I don't think that these guys are from an apiary. I read that bees will usually travel not more than a mile to find water, and there aren't any suitable places within a mile of the airport for an "owner" to have boxes. I think I will start growing plants that can give them a little help with food as well. Glad I found this forum to help me with that stuff, too!

I was able to snap a couple pictures of my guys. They look like all bees to me - no predators - but I'm clearly not an expert. Two of the four guys at the bottom of the second picture are about to get into a brawl.
Bee Insect Honeybee Megachilidae Membrane-winged insect

Bee Insect Pest Membrane-winged insect Honeybee

Thanks again for all the help! I'm sure my bees appreciate it as well!

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How come you are not keeping some bees for yourself?
I planted borage for my bees during the drought. So far they are
collecting pollen and nectar from them and thriving now.
And how do you make the sponge/foam water pond? I don't know if
the sponge is toxic or not. So where to get these sponges?
Thanks for the tip on borage! I am going to give it a try. Might not work in our full-sun location, but it is definitely worth giving a go.

To answer your questions about the pond, it is currently a glass vase with a foam raft that floats on top. The foam is high density expanded polyethylene packaging foam. EPE is a non-toxic waterproof foam that does not disintegrate in the water or outgas. It's the same stuff pool noodles and some hair curlers are made from. The funny thing is that I made my first rafts out of popsicle sticks in an attempt to be "all natural" - until I realized the wood was actually heavily processed and probably really bad for the bees! It leeched into the water and made it grungy and stinky. Anyway, I get the EPE from packaging of items we receive at our business. I haven't found it for sale anywhere other than as pool noodles so far. I cut the foam to about 1/4" thick so the bees can reach the water when standing on top. Although some water seeps through the raft, the bees like to drink directly from pond, so I cut holes for them in the raft. Here's a picture of the pond with the water at about 50%:
Soil Plant Grass family Grass Herb

I have experimented with different hole patterns and settled on the current design because nobody has drowned recently and lots of bees can drink at the same time. I didn't go with water plants (which would be ideal) due to maintenance issues. Also, my partner is not nearly as thrilled with the bees as I am, so I've had to incrementally improve the bee oasis to get it to its current state.

That leads to your other question, which is why don't I have an apiary setup. I think my partner would protest loudly at having the bees living here (not just visiting). I'm already getting resistance to planting bee-friendly plants. Some mutterings of the hangar becoming a "bee welfare office" are being snarkily thrown around. I probably should have just swapped out the plants and not mentioned anything! Oh, well. You have to understand that when I started this the pond was just a microwave dinner tray under a fake plant. Now look at it:
Tree Plant Grass Woody plant Grass family

Oh, and the pond is doubling in size today! :-D I'm not telling my partner about that. I'm just putting out the new pond and hoping he doesn't notice. This really isn't the ideal place for an apiary, though. We're a metal hangar surrounded by asphalt. I've done my best to shelter the pond from the direct sunlight by nestling it into the middle of all those plants, but I couldn't do that with a box.

However, I am definitely not ruling out keeping a hive in the future! I've really grown fond of my little buzzy guys. Oh! I haven't seen a fight in 2 days! Also haven't found any dead bees or pieces of bees! This is good news. I hope the new pond takes care of that issue completely.

Thanks for your help and interest. It's really nice to know there are other people out there who don't think I'm a nut case for caring about the bees :) You guys are really encouraging.

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I think your pond is awesome, better than mine and I'm on a farm. I've got you beat on the planting thou, I've got about 8 acres of clover for the girls.
However, I am definitely not ruling out keeping a hive in the future!

Glad to hear!
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