Bees Bearding, Preparing to Swarm or What?

Again, it’s probably normal behaviour for honey bees, but I haven’t seen it before so, as usual, I’m concerned. I checked out the hives first thing this morning and noticed an abundance of wasps flying around. It was also after the first frost of the season. I mention these facts just in case they’re significant. Other than the wasps, there was little activity. I checked the hives again around 11 o’clock when both would be in full sunlight (they only get a couple hours of direct sunlight at this time of year) and there were bees everywhere. Hive #2 looked great. Orientating flights, foragers coming and going. No complaints. But the bees in Hive #1, which haven’t been too active in the past week, were pouring out of the hive. Not flying around much, just walking out of the hive and hanging outside on the entrance board in a thick carpet of bees.

Bees clumping on board board. (Sept. 27, 2010.)

This photo shows them clumped together on one side of the entrance, though the entire entrance board was covered with bees. It’s now about an hour later and they appear to be coming and going as normal, though they still seem to be favouring one side of the entrance.

Does anyone know what would cause the bees to gather in large numbers around the entrance like that? I heard the buzzing of some angry-sounding drones. Maybe they’re all getting the final boot today. I know sometimes bees will hang outside the hive on hot days, but it’s only about 12 degrees out there. It’s not that hot. Anyway, I’m just curious (I’m not alarmed). Here’s the video:

UPDATE: The answer is posted in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Bees Bearding, Preparing to Swarm or What?

    • I didn’t get an answer, but do a Google search for “bees bearding” and the first page provides an answer:

      Basically, the bees were hot inside the hive and went outside to cool off. Which makes sense because I had reduced the entrance to keep wasps out, but it also reduced the ventilation in the hive. Less ventilation means more heat inside the hive. That’s probably all that was going on.

      They haven’t done it since.

  1. To further answer the question (because, let’s face it, I hardly know what I’m talking about), here’s a thread from this page:

    Bearding and swarming, does one have any thing to do with the other? I have one hive and they are bearding each day it is a little bit damp out. There is two brood two honey supers. New to me this spring. Thanks for any help.

    Follow-Up Postings:

    Great question! Generally: no.

    However there are very few “absolutes” in beekeeping and plenty of exceptions to any ‘rule’. If, by Bearding, you mean the bees hanging around outside the hive (especially the hive entrance) verses the actual swarming impulse, then most likely these to events you’re observing are not related.

    They tend to happen at different times of the year (again, I’m talking in generalities). Swarming, occurring at a peak in Springtime and what you’re calling ‘Bearding’, happening in mid to late Summer. Obviously the bees don’t follow the rules of man, so each event can (and does) happen at various other times also.

    Bearding is a form of hive air-conditioning; the bees depart the immediate brood nest area in order to help keep it at the desired temperature (too many busy bee bodies = too many BTUs). When you see all the bees outside the hive an hour before sundown, you’ll also notice the following morning (early a.m.), most if not all, have gone back inside the hive because the outside air temperature (and thus the hive temp) has dropped – again, just a way they regulate the brood nest temperature. This is less likely to be observed in the Spring or early Spring when Swarming is at it’s peak.

    If you have a hive that’s on the verge of swarming, you won’t so much see the bees “bearding” as you’ll observe them actually departing the hive and yet not really leaving the immediate area of the hive. There may be a “small cloud” of bees hovering eight or ten feet in front of the hive and five to fifteen feet above ground level. And they may do this activity a few times before the main body of the swarm actually departs the hive. Eventually these false starts will lead to the final departure with the swarm queen – usually the old queen – unless your hive is throwing off multiple swarms, in which case, even a virgin queen can lead a swarm away (usually a MUCH smaller swarm).

  2. I have a huge beard on the front as we speak. I wondering if it’s swarm prep. I have double deeps with 2 meds. Screen bottom boards. Are they getting ready to swarm?

  3. My first thought it no, they’re probably not swarming. But it’s difficult for me to say. In my experience, I have yet to see bearding lead to swarming. Bearding has always been a form a temperature regulation. It’s too hot inside the hive. The bees walk outside until it cools down. It could indicate a crowded hive that may eventually swarm, which means you might want to take a look and see if the queen is getting crowded, honeybound, etc., then make some space for her with empty frames or supers, but I can’t say for sure if it’s swarm preparation.

    I’ve seen more than a few swarms. When the bees are ready to swarm, my feeling is you’ll know it because the bees will be in flight. You’ll see scouts zipping around and poking into every empty space they can find looking for a new place to live. Whereas with bearding, most of the time the bees are just sort of out there, coating the front of the hive, walking around but not energetic.

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