Why are my Bees on the outside of the hive? This is a question we often hear from novice backyard beekeepers. Is something wrong? Do the bees not like their hive?
In fact, it is called bearding and it is a normal, natural bee behavior that indicates a healthy hive and healthy bees. When you know your bees are bearding and not swarming you need to do nothing but let them go about their business.
So, what does “bees bearding” mean?
It refers to a natural bee behavior whereby bees accumulate at the front of their hive. They form a “beard like” shape. Bees do this on hot, humid days in order to improve ventilation within the hive. They’re basically trying to cool off and cool the inside of the hive. By removing body heat from the hive, it will cool down very quickly – and so will they.
Why are my bees doing this
The environment within a beehive is kept at a very precise temperature and humidity level by the bees. This is critical to the breeding colony, which requires a standard temperature between 32°C and 36°C as well as a specific ambient humidity level so that nectar will evaporate to properly form honey.
The Difference between Bearding and Swarming
Bearding bees are frequently confused with swarming bees. While bees beard to maintain the internal environment of their hive, bees swarm when their colony has outgrown the hive.
Swarming usually occurs in spring, and it is a direct result of the bees needing more space to breed, store pollen and honey, and prepare for the coming months. Swarming represents a single bee colony splitting into two separate colonies and it is how bees thrive, reproduce as a colony, and survive.
Bearding bees: crawl out and cluster at the front of the hive. They tend to not become airborne. The days this occurs on will usually be very hot or humid, and the bees at the entrance of the hive all face the same direction. They will fan with their wings in an attempt to cool the temperature within the hive. When the sun goes down in the evening and the temperature drops, the bees will likely re-enter the hive if it cools down enough. During this process, the bees will be quiet, calm, and behave in unison.
Swarming bees: fly and hover outside the hive near the entrance and nearby. This occurs when the hive is becoming overcrowded and there will be queen cells in the hive as a new queen has been born and chosen to establish a new hive. Swarming will see large numbers of noisy bees flying rapidly in a seemingly haphazard way, while bearding is quite a static activity. Swarming bees will need a new home to move into – so you’ll need to provide a new hive for them otherwise they’re likely to set up in a less suitable location. Monitor the inside of your hive so you can anticipate your colony’s needs for space.
Bees bearding in the rain or cool weather
Bees may display bearding behavior on a cool or rainy day. This is because it has become too hot, humid, or stuffy in the hive. They may also beard just prior to getting ready to swarm.
Make sure your bees always have replenished fresh, cool, but very shallow water nearby. Offering a light mixture of sugar water will help make sure your bees drink there and not in a neighbors pool, birdbath, or fish pond. Make sure your hives are shaded for much of the day in summer and that there is adequate airflow around them. Hives too close to a house or a shed can overheat from radiant heat on a hot day.
Bearding in hot or humid weather is a sign of a strong, healthy colony with a good population. It’s a normal occurrence in summer and indicates happy bees with plenty of honey.