Bearding and Swarming – How to Identify the Difference

Bearding (left) – Swarming (right)

How can you identify the difference between bearding and swarming? Given that both events can look very similar, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the difference. Here’s a quick explanation of both bearding and swarming, as well as how to tell them apart.

What is bearding?

A beehive needs a stable temperature of 95 F (33 C) to ensure the survival of the brood. Bearding happens for various reason. For example, when the temperature inside the hive rises because of hot weather, or high humidity. Other reasons include overcrowding, lack of ventilation, or a combination of all those factors. Some of the worker bees collect water and bring it back to the hive to prevent the brood from overheating.Inside the hive, the workers wave their wings in an effort to lower the temperature. The combination of the water and the waving of their wings creates a misting effect, which lowers the temperature inside. However, sometimes fanning alone is not sufficient.

Too many bees inside the hive contribute to raising the temperature. As a result, the bees not needed inside will  congregate outside of the brood boxes, hang from the alighting board, or gather near the entrance, forming a beard-like structure. By gathering outside the hive, the bees accomplish to lessen the heat load, decrease congestion, and increase the ventilation space. This process known as bearding usually lasts for a few hours. Towards the evening, when the temperature falls, the bees return to the hive going about their usual business. Bearding can also happen if there is too much honey in the hive and not enough room for the bees to move around.

Temperature Regulation depends on the Queens Mating

Scientists from the University of Sydney discovered that the way in which the temperature inside the hive is controlled depends on whether the queen mates with only one male or with several. They compared the bees ability to regulate the temperature of two hives. In one hive the queen mated with only one drone, while the queen of the other hive mated with several males. They discovered that both colonies maintained the perfect temperature inside the hive. However, over time the temperature of the colony with the mixed genetics remained relatively constant compared to the hive where the queen mated with only one male, which also reacted slower to temperature changes.

Interestingly, bees just like humans perceive temperatures differently. While some bees may feel it is too cold; others feel it’s too hot; and some feel the temperature is just right, and they will act to regulate the temperature for the welfare of the hive.

What is swarming?

Swarming is when a colony of bees splits and leaves the hive to find a new home. This happens when the hive becomes overcrowded, or, if the hive is infested. Another reason could be that the food sources have dried up. Swarming usually takes place in mid to late summer and when food sources are abundant.

Differences between Bearding and Swarming

Although bearding and swarming may look similar and can sometimes be confused, there are notable differences.

One difference is the timing; Swarming usually occurs mid to late spring when there is enough food to start a new colony, while bearding happens mid to late summer when the temperature outside is hot. Also, whereas bearding generally happens in the afternoon when the temperature is at its highest, bees usually swarm from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

Another difference is the noise they make and whether or not they fly. A swarm of bees also make quite a loud buzzing noise, forming a cloud in the air near the hive, whereas bearding bees are relatively quiet and usually crawl out from the hive without taking off.

When bees are swarming, they are best left alone. However, when bees are bearding it is advisable to place some water nearby and provide some shade to help them cool down.

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