Bees with Beards

Ah, the bearded hive. With our current heatwave, beards are in fashion among beehives here in Calgary. Last week, I was called to the home of some new beekeepers. The front of their two-story hive was completely masked by a wildly unkempt beard of bees, listless workers hanging out on a warm summer’s evening.

Remarkably, the hive had developed from a package which the new beekeepers had installed just two months earlier. (Bees are amazing!)  Since the forecast predicted persisting heat and it was still earlier in our honey season, we split the hive  and inserted a third box between the two brood chambers, intermingling sheets of starter comb. Half an hour later, the beard was waning. Inside, the bees were waxing the foundation.  I wish my camera had been handy. The before and after scene was spectacular. But I have other beards to show you, so I’ve placed a few on this page.

My friend Veronica shared this image of her neatly kept backyard hive. It’s mustached rather than bearded. Bees are drawing air into the hive. An upper entrance might help.

The hive to the left caused mild alarm for another friend. She wondered if such behaviour is normal. It is. Although it was after dark and the air had cooled a bit, a few hundred bees continued to cover the upper lip of the entrance. For new beekeepers, such activity seems rather odd. The situation is usually relieved with the addition of a few honey supers and additional ventilation. Slatted bottoms, a wider, taller front entrance, and an upper entrance may be helpful.

We are having an unusual hot spell here.  Perhaps it will surprise you, but it occasionally gets very warm in Canada. While building homes for Habitat for Humanity in Winnipeg this week, former president Jimmy Carter suffered heat exhaustion. (With his work ethic and his skill with power tools, he would have been a fine beekeeper.)  Just like an active retired president, your bees need shade, plenty of water, and ventilation. You’ve probably heard all that before and you can look it up in any basic beekeeping book. I’m not going to belabour the obvious.   Hot, crowded bees will sit on the front porch. You don’t want this. Idle bees are the devil’s bees, as they say.

Bearded hive with a mop-top, just before supering. My hive has an upper entrance, that’s why the bees are hanging from the top.

It’s not only beehives that grow bee beards, but humans also fancy the fashionable. I wrote about this summery trend a few years ago. To save you the effort of following my link, I’ve repeated that post here.

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Braving the Beards

An itchy growth of facial bees

Almost anyone can grow a beard. Especially if honey bees are the nubs. The young lady in the picture to your right is showing off a sporty growth of facial bees. Surely there is some medicine or therapy that could have prevented this? A few days ago, the web master of a new beekeeping site (Beekeeping Planet) sent me a link to his site’s Top Ten Bee Beards page. So, it got me thinking about bee beards.

Perhaps a stylish bee jacket?

What is the fascination with bee beards? Not everyone likes the appearance of a shaggy face. (Although Darwin, Lincoln, Marx, and Castro all got good mileage from theirs.) And not everyone enjoys having small stinging creatures buzzing the cheeks. But combine the two, and you could make a PBS documentary. Photos of bee-bearded folks are almost as old as photography. I guess it’s because the bee beard combines the yucky, the creepy-crawly, and the daring-do in a delectable way. Having a potentially dangerous motley crew of stinging creatures hanging under one’s nose has an almost universal appeal.

Almost anyone can grow a bee beard. But I am reminded of this tragic story about a 34-year-old gentleman in Vermont: Man Has Trouble Growing Full Beard Of Bees. It seems to be true – patchiness, uneven color, itchiness, and the odd stray gray bee seem to plague the young man whose father “always had a full thick beard of bees his whole life.” There is a solution, which The Onion fake news didn’t report: some young men have been going for the full bee jacket to take attention off their lack of bee beard. It’s easier to maintain and has just as much “Wow Power” as the facial bees. However, the bee jacket is not recommended while motorcycling.


About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Beekeeping, Climate, Humour and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bees with Beards

  1. Pingback: Bees with Beards | Raising Honey Bees

  2. Pingback: Bees with Beards | Beginner Beekeeper

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