Swimming Pools and Bees

by Donald Ray Burger

We provide water sources for our bees in hopes that they will drink from our property and not from our neighbors’ swimming pools. Unfortunately, European honey bees seem just as fond of swimming pools as the neighborhood kids are.

This is not a new problem, and several solutions have been offered to keep bees away from swimming pools. The July, 2010, issue of American Bee Journal featured an article by Thomas C. Webster of the Kentucky State University Land Grant Program entitled, “Swimming Pools – How Do We Keep the Bees Away?”

Webster recalls how he tried the “standard solutions” such as large buckets of tap water with various concentrations of salt. Recall that bees like salty water, probably because of the minerals in the water. He floated wooden blocks in the buckets so the bees would not drown. He even attached Nasanov pheromone to the wooden blocks to add extra attractants for the bees. They still preferred his neighbor’s swimming pool.

Even a small pond near the hives was passed over in preference to the chlorinated water of the swimming pool.

Webster decided that bees like swimming pools because pools are usually large bodies of water in direct sunlight. Also, there are no weeds or other obstructions at the edges of pools. The most important factor, he speculated, is that the sunlight becomes polarized when reflected off the swimming pool water. He defined polarized light as light that oscillates all in one plane.

Several insects, including bees, see polarized light differently from non-polarized light. This helps them find bodies of water in nature. Also, blue sky has patterns of reflected polarized light depending on the time of day. Thus, the bees can calculate direction more easily when there is an expanse of sky. Swimming pools often have that combination of open sky and polarized light. The attraction to these elements is not as significant if the water source is under trees or surrounded by tall weeds.

Webster also speculates that the strong chlorine smell is attractive to bees because they associate it with other minerals that they need.

Webster ran an experiment where he purchased a children’s wading pool with a six foot diameter. He placed it near the swimming pool that the bees were using. He made sure the wading pool was in direct sunlight. He grabbed some floating toys from the swimming pool and moved them, along with the bees that were on them, to the wading pool.

Finally, he made the swimming pool unattractive to the bees. He did this by spraying the inside perimeter with an insect repellent containing DEET. Apparently, bees find DEET as unattractive as mosquitos do.

He returned for several days to re-spray the swimming pool. Eventually, the bees stopped going to the swimming pool and continued going to the wading pool.

Webster concluded his article by stating that his plan was to move the wading pool farther and farther from the swimming pool until the wading pool was closer to his hives. He also called for other beekeepers to suggest things other than DEET to spray in the swimming pool. He suggested that vegetable oil might be as effective.

I believe that the key to Webster’s plan is the waggle dance of the bees. As the bees realize that the swimming pool is no longer attractive, they will do a waggle dance indicating the location of the wading pool. This will allow the wading pool to be moved progressively farther away from the swimming pool each day. Of course, one must not forget the requirements of full sunshine and no weeds.

Part of being a good beekeeper in the city is making sure that your bees do not bother your neighbors. Providing appropriate water sources is an essential step toward maintaining those good relationships.

Written July 11, 2013

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