FREE SHIPPING ON ORDERS $75+

The Basics of Bearding

by Jill Reed July 15, 2014 7 Comments

Bees Bearding
We've gotten a lot of questions this year from new beekeepers regarding bees clustering on the front of their hives. What is it? Why are bees doing it? Is it normal? Should it be discouraged? It's an easy answer, with one or two caveats.

WHAT ARE THEY DOING? 

It's called bearding, as the bees seem to form a fuzzy beard on the hive and hang out in a cluster. Almost all of the time this is totally normal, and even a good sign. You will see this in strong colonies as the population is at its height and as the bees are storing and ripening honey at a blinding pace. To keep the honey at correct temperature and allow for airflow in the hive, a small to large number of adult bees will hang out in the front, helping the internal temperature to stay cool. You might even see some fanning of their wings, pushing air into the hive on the hottest days. 

Bearding is often a totally healthy sign of a colony working at its peak. It can be a sign of a strong colony with a large population, all in service to their single purpose: overwintering successfully with enough honey stores to survive. Each hive is different and not every hive will display the same amount of bearding. For instance, we have 4 hives in our backyard with colonies all installed this past spring, and no two are alike at this point  in the season. Two show significant bearding, one a bit of bearding, and another, none at all. Things to bear in mind when witnessing this are: genetics and overall health of individual hives, how long the colonies have been hived, and how much room they have to keep storing food supplies. 

SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT BEARDING?

The first thing you want to ask yourself when you see bearding is: do my bees have enough room? That is, depending on your hive type, do they have enough space to keep building and filling comb in the form of a honey super or box, or more empty bars to build comb upon. Likely you will know the answer already due to regular monitoring, but if you don't, you will want to make sure your bees have room to expand and keep storing.

Another aspect to consider regarding space is: have your bees been throwing swarms? If the answer is yes, they are likely out of room and have been out of room. Their productivity and ability to create enough stores for themselves is being thwarted by a lack of room for expansion. In both cases, give them more space. 

In the case of a horizontal top bar hive, harvesting is often required to provide your colony more space. If the hive is filled from end to end with comb, it's the only way (other than splitting) to give them room. Don't be scared to do this!

(If you have a top bar hive and know your bees still have space to build comb and store honey but they are continually throwing stores, your bees could be honey bound. For more on honey bound top bar hives, look for an upcoming post, or shoot us an e-mail/call!)

SHOULD BEARDING BE DISCOURAGED?

Bees bearding on a top bar hive
Bearding is a totally normal, totally natural behavior for bees and even a good sign of a strong, healthy colony that is thriving. As long as you're giving them enough boxes/bars, and the perception that there's more room to build, you've done your job. Some like to provide more ventilation in particularly hot locations, either by putting tiny holes in the handles of the boxes, putting a shim between the top box and the roof, or by adding a screened bottom board. Be careful not to give them too much ventilation, however! Honey bees in the wild, when left to their own devices prefer spaces with very little ventilation according to  Honeybee Democracy

HOW DO I KNOW IF IT IS A SIGN OF SWARMING?

Swarming is active, bearding is usually static. You can see in the photo of the top bar hive here that the bees are relatively facing the same way, ordered, quiet, and still. They are simply hanging out.

If your bees are showing pre swarm activity, it will generally happen in the mid or late morning to early afternoon on a temperate or warm day. You would see bees streaming out of the hive in large quantities, suddenly. The bees will congregate and be noisy and a few dozen will be very actively dancing over the top of the clusters, communicating where they are going. Sometimes, before or after they swarm you'll hear "piping" or "tooting" coming from inside the hive. These high-pitched squeaking sounds are queen bees inside their cells preparing to hatch. At this point it's generally too late to stop the swarm. Definitely don't go in and cut out the swarm cells like some suggest! This can leave your hive queenless if they've already swarmed.
Jill Reed
Jill Reed


7 Responses

Dave Bennett
Dave Bennett

August 19, 2016

Thanks for the educational article. Have been seeing a massive beard on one of my top bars every evening (use to smaller ones on summer nights) and was wondering what is going on, it been about a week so I didn’t think they were throwing a swarm. Thanks

Pat
Pat

August 18, 2016

@philchandler is bearding really a symptom of poor insulation or more a symptom of just a hot day/afternoon and the bees prefer to be outside cooling off than in the hot hive?

Leonard Sanders
Leonard Sanders

August 04, 2016

I have noticed when I check my hive that I see some little black bugs, could this be a problem?

Jesús Rivera
Jesús Rivera

July 27, 2016

Thank you! Very clearly-stated and useful information.

Lynne Parkinson
Lynne Parkinson

June 03, 2016

Very helpful! Thanks

Tally
Tally

June 01, 2016

Hi Jill! My husband and I are beekeepers in San Jose, CA. We keep our bees in an organic community garden within a larger gated community and are always on guard to make sure that our fellow gardeners are well educated about and feel safe around the bees. We found your article “The Basics of Bearding” very helpful and well articulated. Though we have experienced bearding many times and didn’t think our bees were swarming, it is just nice that your words further put our minds at ease that this is just normal bee routine on a hot day for our area. We plan on adding a honey super this week, if needed for space. Thank you for your tips and have a wonderful day!

Phil Chandler
Phil Chandler

May 25, 2016

Bearding is s symptom of poor insulation, causing the walls to warm up in the sun. This stalls the process by which water evaporates from nectar and condenses on the inside walls. The bees understand this, so some of them leave the hive to reduce crowding and cool the walls.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

News & Updates

Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases and more …