Bee Bearding: Why Are Bees Hanging Out Outside Of The Hive At Night?

Are you seeing a lot of bees flying around your hive? Maybe you’ve noticed more bees hanging out by the hive entrance. If you’re finding that your bees are hanging out outside of the hive at night- don’t panic!  

I know I sound like a broken record player, but bees are extraordinary creatures! Not only do they make honey, but they also regulate the temperature in their hives throughout the year. In the winter, they form a cluster to generate heat and stay warm. See my post about how bees prepare for the winter. The summer is no different. If the hive gets too hot and humid, brood can’t properly form and honey remains liquid. There are already worker bees that fan the hive inside to regulate the temperature. However, when the summer heat is too intense, sometimes the bees must take additional measures. This is when they will start bearding.

What Is Bearding?

Bearding refers to when bees hang out outside of their hive in a cluster. The cluster somewhat resembles a beard. Bees tend to beard when the weather is hot and humid and the hive is overcrowded or lacks ventilation. Bearding gives bees a chance to cool down outside as they wait for the temperature in the hive to get comfortable again. Bees form beards to keep the brood nest from overheating. If there are too many bees inside of the hive, fanning alone won’t cool them down.

The conditions in the hive must be precise for the brood and the honey. The temperature in the hive must be between 90 and 95°F for the brood to form properly. On top of that, the humidity in the hive typically needs to be between 50-60% so the liquid mixed with the nectar can be evaporated to form honey.

Bees form beards to decrease the congestion in the hive and encourage ventilation. When bees are bearding, they can typically be found outside of the brood boxes or gathered near the entrance.

Bearding is a normal bee activity and is a sign of a healthy colony. Strong colonies have peaked in population and are working tirelessly to create and store honey. With a large number of bees and movement in the hive, the temperature rises and airflow is limited. Adult bees will hang out in front of the hive to correct the temperature and make it cooler. On especially hot days, you may even see some of the bees fanning their wings to push air into the hive and cool it down. 

How Long Will Bees Beard?

Bees will hang out outside of the hive until the temperature inside improves. Depending on the weather, bees will beard and remain outside of the hive for as little as a few hours or up to a few days.

Bearding can occur a lot, especially during the hottest time of the summer. If your region is experiencing a heatwave, you can expect to see your bees bearding continuously.

Remember that every hive is different depending on their breed, overall health, how long they’ve been hived, and more. Every hive beards differently so don’t be alarmed if your bees take more time.

Should I Be Worried About Bearding?

If your bees are bearding, it may be an indication that the hive structure does not have enough room to accommodate the colony. Inspect the hive structure to ensure the bees have enough space to continue building and filling comb. You may need to add another honey super or additional empty bars (depending on the hive design). Schedule routine hive inspections so you can be aware of your bees needing room to expand or store honey.

All you need to do is ensure that your bees have more than enough space to grow and create more combs to store honey.

If you still have concerns about your bees breading, get in touch with your local beekeeping club or network to ask for advice.

What Do I Need To Do When My Bees Are Bearding?

If your bees are bearding, make sure they have a water source close by. Like us, bees will drink a lot of water in the heat. It’s also a time to inspect the hive’s ventilation. Bearding may be an indication that the hive’s ventilation needs maintenance or improvement.  

If possible, you should have positioned the hive in an area that gives them shade in the afternoon. Many beekeepers report that bees are more productive when they get a break from being in the direct sunlight. Bees use a lot of time and energy to cool down a hot hive. With some shade, bees can use that energy to continue to make honey.

If your hive is not getting any shade in the afternoon, you may consider putting up a shade cloth or an umbrella to protect them from direct sun.

Some beekeepers choose to add more ventilation in the hive. You can add ventilation by making very small holes on the handles of the boxes or by adding a screened bottom board. When considering adding airflow, note that bees don’t want too much ventilation. In fact, they prefer to live in a space with very little ventilation so don’t overdo it.

Are My Bees Planning To Swarm?

Swarming is the process of a single colony splitting into two when the queen bee leaves with a large group of worker bees. Swarming is a honeybee’s natural response to overcrowding in the colony. It’s essential to the bees’ survival. An overcrowded hive can risk the colony’s health.

When bees are preparing to swarm, you will notice that they are very active, loud, and flying around. When bees are bearding, they remain in a cluster, typically facing the same direction, and quietly stay in one place.

Swarming typically occurs in the late spring and early summer. More specifically, swarming can occur in the warmer hours of the day- between 10AM and 2PM. This is when the colony will be most active. You will see bees leaving the hive in large numbers and you will hear a lot of noise.

If you are worried about the potential of bees swarming, check the hive for queen cells. Queen cells are larger and vertical to the ground. The presence of queen cells is an indication that the hive is preparing to split and that a swarm is inevitable.

In this case, you will need to split your hive before that happens.

For more information on why bees swarm and the early signs of swarming, visit my post: Bee Swarming Signs

Final Thoughts

Bearding is a natural behavior for honeybees, especially in the middle of the summer season. Bearding can often be confused for swarming, but there are a few key differences. Beekeepers should not panic when they see bees bearding outside of the hive.  

Some key takeaways about bee bearding are:

  • Ensure that the bees have a water source close by
  • Add additional ventilation to the hive, if necessary
  • Add additional space if there are signs of congestion
  • Don’t attempt to break apart the beard or force them back into the hive
  • If bees are bearding, they will be quiet, facing the same direction, and potentially fanning their wings to bring more air into the hive.

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