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Bee bearding is the honeybee behavior whereby a number of the honeybees come out of the beehive and entangle to form a beard shape at the hive’s entrance. This will normally occur during humid or hot days. The honeybees can also hang on the landing board or outside the brood box.
Bee bearding might occur because of a number of reasons:
- Firstly, high temperatures inside the hive force the bees to go outside;
- Secondly, high humidity is a major cause of bearding;
- Poor ventilation is a third reason for honeybees to exhibit bearding behavior;
- Finally, a combination of any of the mentioned factors can lead to the bearding of honeybees.
The main reason for bee bearding is the need to keep the hive temperature within optimal levels. Brood boxes require specific humidity and temperature levels. The fanning action of worker bees hugely helps keep the brood nest within the optimal temperature and humidity level but in some instances, this isn’t enough. In this case, the bees will be forced to step outside the brood area. Doing so helps ease congestion, boosts air circulation, and also reduces the heat load within the hive. Bearding is thus essential for brood survival.
Difference Between Bearding and Swarming
It is often possible for the beekeeper to confuse bearding with swarming. It is however worth mentioning that bearding is attributable to increased temperatures within the brood box. Swarming on the other hand involves honeybees splitting or abandoning the beehive.
Below are some of the main differences between swarming and bearding:
- Bearding will occur during late or midsummer when the temperature levels are extremely high and unbearable. Swarming however occurs in late or mid-spring when the bee population is at its peak.
- Honeybees will exhibit bearding behavior mainly in late afternoons. Swarming will instead take place between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Additionally, the bearding bees will go back to the hive later in the day, usually late evening when prevailing temperatures have gone down. As for swarming, honeybees will completely move away without returning to the hive.
- Honeybees that swarm will make a loud roaring noise but the bearding bees are extremely quiet.
- The swarming bees form a cloud around the hive and will seal the hive during the process of moving. However, bees that exhibit bearding slowly crawl from the hive and collect outside.
Is Bee Bearding Harmful to a Colony?
Bearding honeybees will never harm the colony, but rather helps ease the congestion inside the hive and helps the bees cool down the brood area. Bearding should never be a cause for worry to any beekeeper. It is however important to comprehend what this behavior is all about so that you can respond accordingly as advised earlier.
Washboarding is another common behavior exhibited by honeybees that can scare anyone seeing it for the first time. This usually entails adult bees lining up outside the hive walls, close to the front of the hive as they rock back and forth. One may seem to perceive the bees as licking the outer surface of the hive. This behavior baffles many and is yet to be deciphered though many theories have been put forth. For instance, some beekeepers believe it is the honeybees sending chemical signals to each other, while others perceive it as bees marking their territory. The bottom line is that no one has come up with a convincing explanation for it. I personally agree with the latter.
What Bee Bearding Suggests
Since you might not really stop bearding, it is wise to understand what it means when you see honeybees exhibiting this behavior. This will help you to respond appropriately. Below are some suggestions of what it means when honeybees begin to portray this:
- There is insufficient space in the beehive forcing the worker bees to decongest the hive by moving out of the hive.
- You applied some mite treatment recently and the honeybees are stepping outside to get some fresh air.
- The prevailing temperatures are high and the brood area has become too hot with fanning proving to be inadequate. The bees have therefore stepped out to ease the congestion and manage the high levels of heat.
- The worker numbers are high and nurse bees are more than enough. This therefore forces the idle worker bees to go outside since they are not required.
Bee bearding can be managed by ensuring the honeybees have easy access to a clean source of water. The beehive should also be well-ventilated and should be well-covered by a shed during the late afternoon when the sun is unforgiving. Honeybees are quite sensitive to weather changes and will instinctively respond to them. It is thus prudent to render a little support to them during adverse weather conditions. A little shade in the late afternoon will afford the honeybees some respite for those within hot climates. Proper ventilation will also help the bees cope well with the hot conditions.