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Bearding is often confused with swarming

Bearding is a term for bees that are assembled on the outside of the hive during hot weather. They may cling to the outside of the brood boxes, hang from the alighting board, or gather near the entrance.

The conditions that lead to bearding are high temperatures, high humidity, over-crowding, lack of ventilation or some combination of those factors. The bees form beards in an effort to keep the brood nest from becoming overheated. If too many bee bodies are covering the brood on a hot day, fanning may not be sufficient to keep the brood cool. By hanging around on the outside instead of the inside, they decrease the heat load, decrease congestion, and increase the ventilation space.

Bearding is sometimes confused with swarming, but there are many differences.

  • Swarming usually occurs in mid to late spring while bearding usually occurs in mid to late summer.
  • Swarming usually occurs from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, while bearding may occur late in the afternoon into the evening. Generally, bearding bees don’t do back inside until the temperature drops—which may be quite late in the day.
  • Swarming bees make a loud roar while bearding bees are relatively quiet.
  • Swarming bees may cover the hive but they also form a cloud in the air around the hive. Bearding bees generally crawl out of the hive without becoming airborne.

If your bees are bearding, make sure the hive has good ventilation and a nearby source of water. If possible, hives should have some shade in the late afternoon. It is often reported that bees do better and are more productive if they have some respite from the direct sun, especially in hot climates. A lot of time and energy is required to cool a hot hive—resources that could be put to better use.

After you’ve corrected any problems with ventilation, don’t worry about the bees. Just like humans they like to while away a hot summer afternoon sitting on the front porch complaining about the heat.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Bearding below a Langstroth hive in July. Photo by the author.

Comments

G.S.
Reply

I have a five-frame “swarm trap” which got occupied by a rather large band of feral bees (they predictibly swarmed from a bee tree). I chose to leave the box in place for 10-14 days so that they might build comb and have established brood before taking them home at dark thirty this morning. I’ve located them in what I believe is a decent place….left them in the 5-frame to settle for a day or so before planning to move them to a ten frame deep. I see what I think is bearding behavior in the (admittedly) poorly ventilated box; I just went out and cracked the top open for more air. They seem awfully loud and there are some flying around in the air, but I’m not sure if I’m seeing bearding (assumed) or pre-swarm behavior (as in we are outta here!). It is 74 degrees F and the box is in the sun, sitting on top of their new 10-frame digs. Any thoughts on what I’m really seeing? Ideas? Suggestions? Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

G. S.

Whatever I say here will turn out to be wrong and then you’ll be sorry you asked. If they built comb in the past two weeks, I doubt they will swarm right away. For one thing, they would need time to build queen cells and build up their populations a bit. But they could be thinking of absconding, in which case they don’t need queen cells or more bees. On the other hand, I don’t think they would abscond if there is brood to care for.

You may be seeing just orientation flight, since they are in a new area, they need to do that. But the loudness is problematic.

So, I guess I would go ahead and transfer them to their new digs, and while I was doing that I would check for brood, swarm cells, or any other odd things. I think it would be good to get them in cooler surroundings as soon as possible.

My guess is they will settle in, but I’ve been wrong before.

Let me know how it turns out.

Julia
Reply

I’m a new beekeeper from Victoria, Australia and just found this wonderful source of information. (I was trying to find out why my bees were fighting around the hive).
Thanks to those who have posted on various issues as there is just sooo much to learn!

Mark
Reply

Hi, thanks for your info. I am a new beekeeper. I introduced my bees to my topbar hive last week and verified comb building and the queen free from her cage midweek. I have been giving them sugar water every day and noticed bearding behavior yesterday in the afternoon. I had limited the entrance to 2 inch width by taping for defensibility and since the bearding have reversed this to the orginal design width for the opening. I am going to setup a shade trellis and thought about adding venting in the gables of the detachable roof. Any other things I should watch for while they settle in?

Rusty
Reply

Mark,

It sounds like you have a good handle on it. I do like the vents, though. They will serve your colony well.

Joyce
Reply

I live in North Idaho. This is my first year as a beekeeper. I have one hive. This spring and summer have been much hotter than usual (mid to high 90’s every day) and I noticed that my bees have been bearding in the evening the last few days. My hive consists of a solid bottom board, two deeps and one super. It is in partial shade a good portion of the day. I am concerned that I should have a screen bottom board to assist with ventilation. Would you advise me to replace the solid bottom board with a screen board at this point?

Rusty
Reply

Joyce,

We still have a long summer to go. I would put in both a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover. I use both from about April through October.

Joyce
Reply

Rusty,

Thank you for the great advice. I saw your instructions for making a screened inner cover and I’m going to get the materials right now.

Thanks again,
Joyce

Elaine
Reply

Hi I am a new beekeeper and just harvested my honey. So I only have 3 brood boxes left and have taken the honey supers off and have noticed the bees are bearding more than before. Should I have another medium in place or will they be okay. Thanks Elaine

Rusty
Reply

Elaine,

Three brood boxes should give them enough space, especially now that the colony size will be shrinking for winter. You can put another box on if you are worried, but I think they should be fine as they are. Bearding doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of room; it usually just means the brood nest is very warm.

Stan
Reply

Great site, been keeping bees since 1974. Pity that I can’t leave comments, I have a wealth of smarts to share.

Rusty
Reply

Stan,

Looks like a comment to me.

annette
Reply

We are new bee keepers. We’ve had our two hives for only a week.
They seem to be doing fine until this morning they are clustering outside
the hives. I am not sure if they are swarming or bearding. We checked the
hives 2 days ago. They seem to have enough sugar water and water
outside. What do we do next?? Thank you!!

Rusty
Reply

Annette,

Was it warm or humid? That is the most common reason for clustering outside.

Wendy
Reply

It’s 6 am and still dark out. 72 degrees and very muggy. My bees are congregating on the outside of the hive and buzzing around some. This is my first hive and was started with 5 frames and they are in a ten frame langstroth hive. What is happening? I’m not sure how to attach a picture.

Rusty
Reply

Wendy,

The answer is in your question: 72 degrees and muggy is making the interior of the hive uncomfortable. They are staying outside the hive to help keep the nest area from getting too hot. It is hard to keep the hive cool in muggy conditions because water does not evaporate easily or quickly.

Andrea
Reply

I just installed two packages 5 days ago. This morning I verified the queen had been released in my TBH. This afternoon I walked outside and noticed so many bees on the outside of the hive and in the air all around it. It is currently 82 degrees, so I know they could just be trying to keep cool. After about thirty minutes of this buzzing/flying activity they all have settled on the bottom of the hive. There are no bees at all inside. They had started to build comb, but no eggs have been laid yet. So, should I just observe them to see if they will go back in once the temps cool? Should I try to dump them in a box and put them back in the hive? Is it possible the queen just took off and now they don’t know what to do? They had plenty of sugar syrup inside and water just outside the hive. First timer and really don’t want to lose this bunch!

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

Sounds to me like they are going to leave the tbh. I would catch them and put them back in. Put a queen excluder or a piece of hardware cloth, five squares to the inch, over the entrance until the queen starts laying.

Andrea
Reply

Thank you. I have been observing them for a couple hours and they seem happily settled on the bottom of the hive. I think they were hot. I did not have the screen open on their side, and did have the observation window open, which I’m sure didn’t help. This is the first hot day we’ve had. They just came through a snow storm on Saturday to get here, so it is quite an extreme change for them. I can try catching them and putting them back in. Any tips for how to go about that? Scoop them into a box then dump them back in? Should I wait till evening when it’s cooler? I’ve really enjoyed your blog and have learned so much from it. Thank you for responding so quickly!

Rusty
Reply

Andrea,

A cardboard box should work at any time of day.

Pinkness
Reply

Why are my bees building comb on the underside of the hive box? Are they preparing to swarm? just got them 2 weeks ago.

Rusty
Reply

Pinkness,

Bees preparing to swarm don’t build comb. Maybe they just like the outside better than the inside. Are they also building comb on the inside?

Steve
Reply

Hello, I am also new to beekeeping and have enjoyed reading your comments and post. My bees are housed in a Top Bar hive with a screen bottom, a hinged top that is vented and lower entrance that is 1/2″ x 8″ long. The bees are still quietly bearding. Should there also be an upper entrance to allow some of the heat to escape? Weather 81 degrees and 80% humidity.

Rusty
Reply

Steve,

You say the hinged top is vented. That should be enough, I think.

Karen
Reply

After inspecting our hive yesterday, we noticed later that same evening the bees are were on the outside and underneath the hive. After checking them again the first thing this morning, they are still outside and underneath the hive. There are also several dead bees under the hive. Not sure if this is considered bearding or not. It is not hot so I don’t think that is the issue. Any idea on what could be happening?

Rusty
Reply

Karen,

It’s hard to say. The dead bees are certainly not an issue, so ignore them. Do you know where the queen is? If she is in the hive, the bees outside the hive can probably be moved inside, unless they are with a separate queen. You might look through the outside cluster to see if there is a second queen, although I doubt it. (Sometimes queens get accidentally shaken into packages, but I don’t know if you bought packages or not, or how long ago.)

I guess I would just move them inside and see what happens.

Dale
Reply

Hi Rusty,
We assumed a swarm about 4 hours ago on our roof. They swarmed to a smaller starter box. The majority of the bees went inside the box. However, there are now more bees bearding outside of the box on front and back. It is 77 degrees and 84% humidity at 8:00 p.m. The box does have a screen bottom but is now on a solid surface. Do you think they are bearding because of the weather or because they are too crowded. I will be leaving for the month of June tomorrow and must decide whether or not to move them to a bigger box before early morning as my spouse cannot do that alone. Thank you

Rusty
Reply

Dale,

They may be trying to keep the interior of the hive cooler. However, they also my move on if they think conditions at this home are not ideal. I would move them to a larger box.

Fred
Reply

This is the first year my hive has made it through the winter after 3 tries so I am very happy.
I noticed this week there has been a large concentration of bees on the outside of the hive. There are still bees coming and going for regular flights and the bees on the outside are very docile allowing them to be moved in late clumps. It has rained a couple days and most go inside like last night but as of this morning they are back outside. I have 2 brood chambers and 2 honey supers with the one next to the brood having the most room. Just hot or ready to swarm?

Rusty
Reply

Fred,

It sounds like bearding, but it wouldn’t hurt to go into the hive and look for signs of swarming such as backfilling and swarm cells.

Nancy
Reply

I have 2 hives in my backyard. The bees in only one are bearding, but it is the hive that we planned to move to a different, cooler location before we add another deep box. We are hoping to move them this weekend, so I’ve been watching the last two days to see if they go back inside in the evening so we can do the transport. Unfortunately it’s been unseasonably hot the last couple of days, and they are staying outside the hive very late — beyond when we hope to get on the road. Any suggestions?

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

You can take your bee brush and brush them into a cardboard box. Move the hive (and the box) and dump them into the hive once you arrive at your new location.

Nancy Hobbs Orme
Reply

Thank you so much! It’s almost 10:30 here, 81 degrees, and we’re fretting about how to get them out of here. New plan is to leave at 4 am, get them to their cooler spot by 5:30, and I will brush any stragglers into a box to reunite them when we get there. Love that I found your site, and plan to be a regular!

Melinda
Reply

Hello,
I had an old bbq that I moved under a branch on my nectarine tree to support it. Not long after I noticed some bees decided it was a great place to set up shop. I don’t mind and will have them relocated at some point by a professional. However, this morning I noticed all the bees out and flying around the tree and the bbq but they would not go inside of it. They didn’t seem to be going anyplace just buzzing about the tree pretty loudly. I thought it might be the heat the past 2 days have been around 113* and today it’s supposed to be 100*. However, this was early morning (6:30) and significantly cooler than late afternoon. I don’t think they were bearding. Any thoughts on what they were doing? Should I do anything to make them comfy? Thanks for the help.

Rusty
Reply

Melinda,

I don’t know what they are doing, but I doubt there is much you can do to help. Just let them be bees. I’m sure they will figure out what they need to do next.

David Miller
Reply

Thought I had found a swarm of bees on the side of a house but after reading this it looks like a bearding hive. Upon closer examination there is a crack under a window where they are living.

Good site! Very informative. ?

Rusty
Reply

David,

Very cool!

Linda Beehler
Reply

I love your site! Bearding or swarming, that is the question. Biggest topic right now and mine is the same. Does it help to add another box to give them more room and more ventilation?

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

I don’t know where you are, but in most areas in North America, swarm season is over. Although swarms can happen at other times, the vast majority occur in a six-to-eight week period in spring. Where I live the drones are already being evicted, and without drones, mating of new queens cannot occur and swarming is unlikely.

Another box will not aid ventilation as much as good air flow through the hive. I find a screened bottom in conjunction with a screened inner cover to be the best.

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

See answer in your previous question.

Kelley Mettenbrink
Reply

I recently came home to find a small portion of bees hanging from a tree limb maybe 3 feet from the hive. I didn’t find a queen in this group but did find her in the original hive. I cut the limb and put a portion back in the hive. Some were just obsessed with this branch so I took the branch and a empty frame and placed in a swarm box. I was wondering if they could’ve been bearding to cool off or did they actually swarm.

I am in Hampton Roads, VA and for the past couple of weeks the weather has been extremely hot. The real feel has been over 100-degrees.

I just did a,hive inspection on Sat and tried to condense the size of the hive thinking they had to much room.

Boy, was that the wrong move.

Thank you

Kelley Mettenbrink

Rusty
Reply

Kelley,

If the group was small and didn’t have a queen or virgin, I doubt it was a reproductive swarm because it wouldn’t be able to establish a new colony. My guess it was bearding related to the high humidity. I would try to give the hive maximum air flow, including a screened bottom board, a screened inner cover, and perhaps an upper entrance. Anything to keep the air moving through. Yes, perhaps removing the upper box was a bad idea. The higher the hive is stacked, the more of a “chimney effect” you get, which aids in pulling the air through the hive and out the top. Don’t worry too much; they will probably be fine.

Tracie
Reply

Thank you for the information!

We moved to a house that already has a hive so we are trying to learn as much as we can. We have been here a month and have been watching from the outside until we got some gear. Today we opened the boxes to do an inspection.
This evening we noticed this bearding. I’m worried that we may have over smoked them. We live in Southern California and it is super hot, over 100 degrees. It was a little more humid today and there was some dust warnings, so the air was not good. Not sure if it was all of that or we just need to try using much less smoke next time. I’m hoping they will be okay and we didn’t do any damage.

Any suggestions would be great.

Rusty
Reply

Tracie,

Bees beard in hot and humid weather. The bees do not want to overheat the brood nest, so some go outside so their body heat is dissipated outside the hive. I suspect the bearding is a result of the humidity more than the smoke. Although over-smoking should be avoided, I’m sure you did no permanent damage and the behavior you are seeing is totally normal.

Michelle
Reply

I am interested in booking and starting my first hive. Crazy question but I need to learn first, but do you let your bees out do they go out on their own. Thanks in advance.

Rusty
Reply

Michelle,

Not sure if I understand the question, but the bees have an opening in their hive and they come and go when they want to. You don’t need to supervise.

David
Reply

The bees have been bearding for a week now and ended up building combs underneath the hive, near the entrance. Should I remove the combs or leave them?

I’m from Australia and it has been really hot all of last week.

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

David,

The first thing I would do is see if you can make the hive cooler. If you don’t already have them, I would add a screened bottom board and a screened inner cover. You can also drill some vent holes in the upper boxes and cover them with screen from the inside. Also, if they’re in bright sun, consider moving them into the shade. Also, you might consider an extra brood box, just so they can spread out a bit.

Once you have done some of those things, I would carefully cut off the combs and tie them onto frames and put then in the hive. If you leave them outside of the hive, they may attract predators that could be damaging to the entire set-up.

David
Reply

Thanks Rusty. I’ll do that.

David
Reply

We are from Victoria Australia as well. I am finding your information very useful as we are new beekeepers and everything that occurs we need to understand why! It’s autumn here (just) and they are bearding, we thought they were swarming, we are keen to have honey but the best thing is to assist the bees.

Mike Frank
Reply

We have 3 of 4 healthy hives. Today the bees were all out covering the hives. They were even covering a “dead hive.” It is late going into the evening and there are a ton of bees covering just one of the hives. There are a lot of bees in the same hive that seem to be doing their normal thing. I’ve had 4 swarms already and think this may be another swarm in the making. Have not experienced this method of their madness?? Thoughts?

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

Is it hot where you are? If so, the bees may be outside to lower congestion and keep the brood nest cooler. You could have another swarm, but that doesn’t sound like one. Swarms usually leave closer to midday or early afternoon.

Sophia Campeau
Reply

Hi, great info here.

I just tried to re-home a swarm. But I don’t know if it is right. We did not have a hive ready and to be in time we had to bid on e-bay and got 3 national hives. Obviously second hand, but I had not thought it through. I cleaned just the bottom box and one box with new wax frames in it and the top, with boiling water and brush and a metal thing you use to get paint off. I poured extra boiling water to flush all away and dry them in the sun. Now I shook most bees in the bottom bit and some that where left on a white sheet I had payed outside in front of entrance. Now they are all (or maybe most) bearding on the outside of the hive. It was a much hotter day today, but not that hot (about 20 degrees Celsius). Any advise very welcome. Also about cleaning, as I could do this better I am sure, but had time limit. I want to do it without chemicals thanks Sophia

Rusty
Reply

Sophia,

I think you cleaned as well as can be expected. Not knowing the history of the boxes, you can always take a propane torch and singe the insides, which will kill spores of Nosema and foulbrood. Other than that you don’t want use chemicals or anything that repels the bees.

It’s sometimes hard to get a swarm to settle. Are the frames new or are they used as well? Sometimes they don’t like the smell of new wood. You may just have to be patient. It often helps to keep the queen in a cage until the workers start to build comb, just to keep them from absconding.

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