feeding bees

A non-threatening water source for bees

Several years ago I planted lamb’s ear to attract wool carder bees. I wanted to get pictures of the bees collecting fibers, but so far, I haven’t seen a single taker. Instead, the wool carders stay on the lemon balm.

However, every morning the honey bees congregate on the lamb’s ear to drink the condensation that forms on the leaves. I think of it as a non-threatening water source because the bees can’t drown in it or get washed downstream. Instead, they stand safely on the dense pad of fibers and slurp the drops. On some mornings, the plant is loaded with honey bees tanking up for the day.

Yesterday I caught this young honey bee having a drink. When I see the texture of the leaf and the crystalline drops of dew, I can almost feel the chilly morning air. I also like that I can see her hairy eyeballs, proboscis, corbicula, and pollen press.  Honey bees are just too cool.

Lamb's ear provides a water source for bees

A young honey bee at the Dew Drop Inn. © Rusty Burlew.


  • Fantastic shot! Nice idea for natural way to hydrate. I’ve seen wool carders on my bachelor button leaves.

    • Alban,

      Because of the hairy thorax. Those hairs rub off as the bee ages. Also the back edges of the wings are not damaged. As the bee ages, the wing edges become frayed and torn.

  • That’s beautiful! Before I had bees, lambs ear was one of my least favorite plants, taking over every garden bed. These bees are having a powerful influence on my opinions – volunteer sunflowers, catmint, lambs ear, dandelions, bindweed. They’re all looking good to me now!

  • Could be they are not just taking pure H20 and they are gaining some kind of trace elements as well. No doubt you have other water sources available within their flight range, yet they are choosing the lambs ear. Could be they see it as a safe hydration point as you say, but Lambs Ear has long been known for its antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Could it be that some of these properties present on the leaf surface are transferred to the dew condensate?

    • Jeff,

      Could be. My property is mostly wetlands, along with two creeks and a spring. The bees also like the water that seeps from the hillside, which is kind of green and slimy.

      • Kind of green and slimy = mineral and trace element rich water that feeds simple algal growth.

        I am a great believer in animals being able to seek out what they feel they need at any given time to self medicate. You will see such activity in cats and dogs chewing vegetation, I see it often with cattle enduring electric fence pulses to reach a certain herb or tree on the other side. It is not through hunger, but the desire for that particular species of plant/flower/or bud.

        You see it in the lambs ear, you planted for the wool carders, yet they choose not to take your offering. We plant what we think the bees might like, yet they alone decide if it is indeed what they like. Same with water, we can provide the cleanest, clearest spring water and they will still drink from the green and slimy!

  • Beautiful picture Rusty. You really should compile (is that a word?) your photos in one location to show off your skills and your knowledge. Ha,ha. You do not have enough to do already.

  • Great pic:) Another great plant to have in the lawn border is borage. Morning dew, nectar, and/or early morning sprinklers the spiky leaves help them hang on.. Thanks again for the shot…have to plant a little lambs ear too.

  • I have my hives in a similar location, between a creek and a wetland. My bees are always on the mud, even when no visible water is present. 8 feet away, a clean and clear gentle stream flows with damp gravel islands, yet they love the mud!

  • Cocktail hour at the Dew Drop Inn? What a glowing beauty! And this fabulous young lady has such beautiful lashes! She has obviously groomed herself meticulously in anticipation of becoming a photo sensation because her hair and wings are perfect! She must have had help…Who IS her hairdresser? (not to be confused with an oak dresser – I love this stuff! Great website!! Just Brilliant!!) Lilli-Bee Paparazzi

  • Rusty,

    What a terrific photo and a terrific post! Even separate from your beekeeping-related observations, which are extremely valuable, this photo is simply beautiful. If it’s not trade secret, would you mind sharing some information about the type of camera and lens you use, the distance to the subject, and if you did not use the auto-settings/auto-focus mode, the key settings that you used for this photo? Thank again for everything you do.

    • John,

      Well, it’s not a trade secret. I operate under the belief that it’s the lens, not the camera, that makes a photo. I use a Rebel SL1 for all my photos. This one was taken with a 60mm Canon macro with ring light. I set the ISO to 1600 and shutter speed to 1/200 which yielded f/16. The distance was about 6 inches with auto focus.

  • The dew formed on the plant is a very healthy water. The dew is a very highly structured water. It is equal to the water in snow and fresh water in the mountains.

    In genesis it refers to the dew on the plants as it had not rained yet. Which did not mean anything to me until I found out there is different forms of water, some beneficial some deadly. The dew is of the best quality water.

    It never occurred to me of bees harvesting dew, a high form of water.

  • This has been one more learning year for me. What about feeding Himalayan salt via salt block to honey bees. Open feeding concept.


    • Jim,

      I used to have salt blocks out for the deer, but I never saw any interest by the honey bees. No harm in trying.

  • That is so nice, thank you for sharing. We have a patch of Lamb’s Ear and there is European Wool Carder patrolling the area every year. I assume it is a different bee every year, is that right? It is the male that patrols so presumably he dies off over winter. Must be a good spot as they have returned three years running now.

    My bees have never shown any interest; they like the water at the neighbor’s pond and the nearby stream best. Lots of bumble bees visit, and it is interesting to watch the Carder bee chase them away all the time.

    Thanks again!


    • Erik,

      Yes, different male bee every year. The adults only live a month or two at most. I like watching them, too. I’ve had them butt right into my camera lens and scare me out of my wits.

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