A method for identifying water foraging bees by refractometer analysis: a spotlight on daily and seasonal water collecting activities of Apis mellifera L.

  • Jana E. ReetzEmail author
  • Sebastian Zühlke
  • Michael Spiteller
  • Klaus Wallner
Research article


The current discussion about the relevance of guttation as a water source for honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) draws attention to the activity of water foraging bees. However, due to the wide foraging range, field observations of water foraging bees are difficult to carry out. Therefore, samples of returning bees were collected in front of the entrance early in the morning as well as during the day in summer and autumn 2010. In the laboratory, honey sacs of bees without pollen or propolis were examined. Honey sac samples with a weight of ≥0.005 g were classified as successful foragers. For the determination of water or nectar foragers, the honey sac contents of successful foragers were analyzed with a refractometer. Due to the dilution and the precision of the refractometer, an accuracy of 5 % was possible. Based on the known range of sugar concentrations in nectars, the analyzed samples were divided into nectar foragers (25–65 % sugar) and water foragers (0–15 % sugar). The study reveals that nectar and water foraging bees can be discriminated by analyzing the honey sac extracts with a refractometer. In autumn, the water demand of honey bee colonies is almost exclusively covered by water collection, whereas during summer nectar is mainly used as a substitute for water. In general, water collection is not restricted to certain times of the day.


Water foraging Apis mellifera L. Honey sac Refractometer 



For funding this research on the water collecting activities of honey bees, we thank the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). Furthermore, we thank the staff members of the field sites for providing us experimental sites, K. Baur for helping with the preparation of the honey sacs and the reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.


  1. Becher MA, Scharpenberg H, Moritz RFA (2009) Pupal developmental temperature and behavioral specialization of honeybee workers (Apis mellifera L.). J Comp Physiol A 195:673–679. doi: 10.1007/s00359-009-0442-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Casaulta G, Krieg J, Spiess W (1985) Der Schweizerische Bienenvater—Fachbuch für Imker, Chap. XXVII, 16th edn. Verlag Sauerländer, AarauGoogle Scholar
  3. Girolami V, Mazzon L, Squartini A, Mori N, Marzaro M, Di Bernardo A, Greatti M, Giorio C, Tapparo A (2009) Translocation of neonicotinoid insecticides from coated seeds to seedling guttation drops: a novel way of intoxication for bees. J Econ Entomol 102(5):1808–1815. doi: 10.1603/029.102.0511 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kiechle H (1961) Die soziale Regulation der Wassersammeltätigkeit im Bienenstaat und deren physiologische Grundlage. J Comp Physiol A 45(2):154–192. doi: 10.1007/BF00297763 Google Scholar
  5. Kühnholz S, Seeley TD (1997) The control of water collection in honey bee colonies. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 41(6):407–422. doi: 10.1007/s002650050402 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Lindauer M (1954) Temperaturregulierung und Wasserhaushalt im Bienenstaat. J Comp Physiol A 36(4):391–432. doi: 10.1007/BF00345028 Google Scholar
  7. Maurizio A, Grafl I (1969) Das Trachtpflanzenbuch: Nektar und Pollen—die wichtigsten Nahrungsquellen der Honigbiene. Ehrenwirth Verlag, MünchenGoogle Scholar
  8. Pasedach-Poeverlein K (1940) Über das „Spritzen“ der Bienen und über die Konzentrationsänderung ihres Honigblaseninhalts. J Comp Physiol A 28(3):197–210. doi: 10.1007/BF00342435 Google Scholar
  9. Piscitelli A (1959) Über die Bevorzugung mineralstoffhaltiger Lösungen gegenüber reinem Wasser durch die Honigbiene. J Comp Physiol A 42(5):501–524. doi: 10.1007/BF00297807 Google Scholar
  10. Reetz JE, Zühlke S, Spiteller M, Wallner K (2011) Neonicotinoid insecticides translocated in guttated droplets of seed-treated maize and wheat: a threat to honeybees? Apidologie 42(5):596–606. doi: 10.1007/s13592-011-0049-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Robinson GE, Underwood BA, Henderson CE (1984) A highly specialized water-collecting honeybee. Apidologie 15(3):355–358. doi: 10.1051/apido:19840307 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Seeley TD (1996) The wisdom of the hive: the social physiology of honey bee colonies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 42–43. Accessed 3rd May 2012
  13. Sesta G, Lusco L (2008) Refractometric determination of water content in royal jelly. Apidologie 39(2):225–232. doi: 10.1051/apido:2007053 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Visscher PK, Crailsheim K, Sherman G (1996) How do honeybees (Apis mellifera) fuel their water foraging flights? J Insect Physiol 42(11–12):1089–1094. doi: 10.1016/S0022-1910(96)00058-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Wykes GR (1952) The sugar content of nectars. Biochem J 53(2):294–296Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit (BVL) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jana E. Reetz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sebastian Zühlke
    • 2
  • Michael Spiteller
    • 2
  • Klaus Wallner
    • 1
  1. 1.Apicultural State InstituteUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Chemistry, Institute of Environmental Research (INFU)Technical University DortmundDortmundGermany

Personalised recommendations