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Bee Bearding: What Does it Mean?

A fuzzy mass of bees are hanging from the front entrance of your hive, what can this be?  You are witnessing bee bearding.  This activity is most common during the hot, humid Summer months.  It can be rather alarming to those who are new to keeping bees.  But it is not cause for alarm, as with most things related to honey bees, they are trying to tell you something

Clumps of honey bees bearding at the entrance of a beehive image.

Why are My Bees Hanging Outside?

As hundreds of bees hang onto the landing board and each other, you may wonder if there are any bees left inside.  Why would the bees want to hang outside?

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They do this for the same reason that we like to sit on the front porch and enjoy a cool breeze.

It gets hot inside a crowded bee colony.  Worker bees must keep the brood nest in a temperature range that will protect the developing bees.  If internal temperatures become too great, brood will die.

Honey bees bearding on front of beehive image.

As the colony population grows, the inside of the hive heats up-especially on hot or humid days. When some of the older workers move outside, managing internal temperatures becomes easier.

Bees in the beard are calm and still as they congregate near the hive entrance.  Some of them may be fanning to push cooler air into the hive.

Washboarding with Bearding

Another unusual activity you may notice is a spread of bees seeming to wash the front of the hive. Instead of all the bees hanging in a clump, many are spread around the front of the hive moving rhythmically. Washingboarding behavior happens more in times when incoming food is sparse.

Why are My Bees Bearding at Night?

Hot Summer evenings are the most common time to see bearding behavior in bees.  As the foraging day grows to a close, worker bees are returning to the colony from the field.

Rather than restricting air flow through the hive by remaining inside, these foragers gather in clumps on the hive front.  This is a rather amazing sight to witness as the bees hang in beard shaped forms.

When the night cools off, the honey bees will usually return to the inside of the beehive. In times of extreme heat and crowding, some bearding may still be obvious the next morning.

Honey bee bearding on the front of a hive image.

Why do Bees Beard in the Rain?

It is not uncommon to see a strong colony bearding on a rainy day.  Again, this is an attempt to control heat and humidity inside the hive. 

Also, because bees do not fly in the rain, all of the workers are at home with nothing to do.  Rather than be in the way inside – they may choose to move outside.

Bearding Bees vs Swarming

When a beekeeper first experiences bearding, it is common to think the hive is about to swarm.  This is not so. 

Honey bees in a beard do eventually go back in the hive as the temperatures cool. 

While a swarm of bees will simply leave the hive.  A swarming hive does not hang on the front of the hive in motionless clumps.  Instead they leave the hive and hang nearby until ready to leave for their new home.

What You Should do If Your Hives Beard?

When you notice bee bearding in one of your colonies, do not try to interfere with the bees. They will most likely go back in the hive as the temperatures cool.

Trying to make the bees go inside with smoker or other methods is just a useless waste of time and stressful for the bees.

If you have only one hive that is bearding every day and other hives are not, you might want to inspection of the hive.

Check the hive to ensure that the bees do have enough space inside and are not crowded on the frames.

Honey bees hanging outside front of hive image.

Checking for Swarming Signs

Bearding does not necessarily indicated swarming.  However, strong hives are more likely to beard and strong hives are more likely to swarm.

If your bees are not over-crowded and you see no sign of queen cell construction, the bees are most likely just trying to control hive temperature.

Perhaps you can give the hive some extra ventilation by using a screened bottom board or propping the telescoping top up on a couple of popsicle sticks to aid air flow.

If you find evidence of swarm preparations, you must decide how to proceed. You may decide to split your beehive into 2 parts before the bees do it themselves.

Beehive Bearding Is Natural

Enjoy watching this natural behavior of honey bees.  Some colonies will do it more than others but any colony may beard on a sultry Summer evening.

Bearding is a sign that your honey bee colony is strong and healthy.  That is always a good thing.

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