Sometimes bees behave in ways that seem strange to us humans. One such behavior is known as bearding. However, if you have been asking yourself why your bees are bearding and are worried that it might be a sign they are about to swarm, read on to find out more about bearding and what makes bees do it.
What Does Bearding on a Beehive Mean?
Bearding is the term given to a cluster of bees that almost resembles a man’s beard in appearance. You might notice that your bees are bearding at the entrance to the hive, and although it is natural to assume that this means the bees are about to abscond, the reality is that this bearding is caused when the hive becomes too hot for the bees.
As you might imagine then, bearding is much more common during the warmer times of the year. When the external temperature is extremely warm, you can be sure that the temperature inside the hive is very warm too. Your bees will head outside to allow the hive to cool down; they help by fanning their wings outside the hive, which helps to push cool air inside.
The good news for beekeepers is that bearding is generally considered to be a sign of a strong colony with large numbers. When there are more bees inside the hive, their body temperatures can cause the hive to become quite hot, especially on warmer humid days. So the bees will cluster outside in an effort to maintain the internal temperature between the 90F and 97F which is necessary for the curing of honey.
Are My Bees Bearding or About to Swarm?
Confusion between bearding and swarming is common, particularly among new or inexperienced beekeepers, but there are things that you can look out for that will help you to tell the difference.
If you have noticed that your bees are clustered at the entrance to the hive, look to see if they are facing the same direction. If they are bearding, they are likely to be fanning their wings to try to push cool air into the hive.
As mentioned, bees tend to beard when it is hot and humid; when the temperature and humidity levels drop again, they should head back into the hive.
Swarming tends to occur when a hive becomes overcrowded and conditions inside are unbearable for the bees. Look inside the hive to see if there is a lack of space for the bees. You should also look for queen cells inside the hive. If they are present, then there is a substantial risk that your bees are about to swarm.
Another thing to be aware of is that bearding bees tend to crawl out of the hive rather than fly out. If you notice a cluster outside the hive with a number of bees flying about, it may be that your bees are preparing to swarm. If they are going to swarm, they will not be fanning their wings; they will be waiting patiently for the signal that it is time to leave.
What to Do When Bees are Bearding?
Inexperienced beekeepers often panic when they see their bees bearding for the first time. Some will quickly try to collect the bees and place them back inside the hive while others use a smoker in an attempt to make them re-enter the hives themselves.
The thing to remember is that bearding is completely normal and, as already mentioned, a sign of a healthy colony. As long as you know the difference between bearding and swarming, it is best to leave bearding bees alone.
There are some things that can be done to help prevent bees from bearding, such as making sure the hive does not get too hot in the first place. Obviously, there is not a lot you can do about the external temperature, but you can place your hive in a shaded area and ensure it is never in direct sunlight during the summer months.
You can also try to ensure that the hive is well ventilated by using an open mesh floor and side vents. Ventilation is particularly important in the winter when condensation can build up inside the hive because of the cold weather outside and the warmth of the bees inside.
Bearding is a common phenomenon and should not be a cause for concern. When bees are bearding, it is a sign that the hive is hot inside. The bees typically crawl outside to get some air and then fan their wings to push cooler air inside the hive.
Bearding is not to be confused with swarming, which is when bees are getting ready to leave the hive, usually due to the absence of a queen or unsuitable conditions inside.