honey bee swimming in water

Can Bees Swim? A Not-So-Simple Answer

No, bees can’t swim like we do, but they can use their wings as hydrofoils and ‘surface swim’ to reach the closest dry land. This is incredibly energy-intensive, so it needs to get to safety as quickly as possible before it gets too tired or water-logged.

You heard right; bees can travel across short distances of water with relative ease, providing their full of energy.

Let’s look at what happens to bees when they go for a dip and how they use ripples to fantastic effect.

Why Do Bees Go Swimming?

Every species, from the honey bee to solitary bees, needs water to survive. Access to a water source close to a hive or nest can differentiate between life and death for bees.

This means they must carefully place themselves on the edge of a pool of water to gently drink before leaving to continue their search for nectar and pollen.

Some bees will land in water or fall from the water’s edge, leading to emergency action to return to the safety of dry land. Let’s look at how these other airborne insects manage such a fantastic feat.

*Interesting fact – In the height of summer, when temperatures rise, honey bees will collect water and take it back to the hive. It cools the hive’s interior as it evaporates, providing some well-needed relief from the heat.

a bee stuck in a swimming pool

How Do Bees Get Across Water If They Can’t Swim

We know the basics, but let’s dive into the fascinating mechanics of how a flying insect can effectively navigate bodies of water.

When a bee lands or falls onto the water’s surface, it will immediately beat its wings and angle towards the closest solid surface. This is a survival response because time is ticking on whether this bee will successfully reach dry land or drown.

But what may look like frantic flapping to us is much more effective than we may have thought.

How bees use ripples to their advantage

Bees use their wings to create forward motion to try and leave the water, but two researchers found more going on here than meets the eye.

Bees are being propelled forward by the ripples they create on the water’s surface. Not unlike us humans when we head out to go surfing.

This allows bees to float and glide for small distances, aiding them in escaping as quickly as possible.

What happens when a bee can’t reach dry land?

Bees cannot make it across large bodies of water. It won’t take long before they’re primarily furry abdomens and thorax to get wet.

They can swim for up to five to eight minutes max before wet wings and soaked body eventually means they’ll drown. 

a bee leaning precariously over a pool of water

Can Bees Fly When They’re In Water?

No, if a bee lands on water, its delicate wings won’t get the same downforce they would on land. 

The water will also create suction on the bee’s wings, dragging them down so they can’t generate the speed they need to take flight.

How Can You Save A Swimming Bee? 

Bees land in everything: bird baths, swimming pools, ponds, puddles, and more. But you can generally take some quick action to rescue a soggy bee.

Scoop the bee out and place it gently in the sun, giving it the best chance at surviving. I recommend using something other than your hand to avoid an unintentional sting.

Head over to our article on how to save a drowning bee for an in-depth guide. If your swimming bee is exceptionally exhausted, mix a sugar water solution to boost it home safely.

How Can You Create A Safe, No-Swim Zone For Bees?

Now you know the struggles that searching for water gives bees, you’ll be pleased to hear you can create your own watering station to let bees drink safely in your backyard.

Find a container that you can fill with shallow water. An old dish, or even a baking tray with some depth, is perfect.

Place several rocks around your container so the bottoms are submerged underwater, but there’s still an island on top for the bees to land on.

*Quick wins – You can grow lily pads if you are lucky enough to have a pond. Their large circular leaves are perfect islands for bees to drink from and provide shelter for wildlife living in your pond.

In Conclusion

While bees may not win any swimming medals in the near future, their ability to escape a sticky situation is incredible.

Have you ever wondered if bees smell like we do? Turns out the answer is pretty amazing. Find out more in Can Bees Smell, Scent & Bees Explained.

Or pick from one of our great reads below, packed with more fascinating insights into the world of bees and pollinators.

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