Bee beard, a beard you don’t want to pull on

The Bee Beard Contest has been a huge attraction at the honey festival for the past four years and was again this year.
“We weren’t sure how things were going to turn out this year because bee keepers are running a little behind in pulls. The first round of honey is usually July 8 and this year, it was July 20. During the Honey Festival, we were between our first and second pulls so five of our volunteer beekeepers couldn’t make it because they were busy working. We managed to find other volunteers to help us,” says Doug Colter, host of the bee beard contest.
In order to prepare the bees for the contest, they are kept in captivity away from their queen for 12 to 48 hours.
“We brought in about eight to nine pounds of bees and each beard can get up to two to three pounds and there are 4000 bees per pound. We chose young bees because they are less agitated than when they get older,” says Colter.
This means that each beard consists of about 8000 to 12000 bees!
In order to create a bee beard, an imitation pheromone, which is a chemical substance, which is produced by the queen in order to keep the hive together, is placed on the face of the individual getting the bee beard.
Bees are released and are attracted to the scent of the pheromone, which causes them to swarm and create a beard. The first bees that make it to the pheromone will fan their wings to fan the scent so that it directs the other bees to the smell.
People receiving the beard may feel excess heat upon their faces when the bees accumulate because the fanning of the wings creates energy, producing heat.
“This is all natural behavior for these young bees because when they are taken away from the queen bee, they naturally congregate and form a cluster when they can smell her. Most of the time they won’t sting because when they can smell the queen, it calms them down.” says Colter.
“Honeybees live in the dark so they communicate by taste, touch, chemical, and cues.”
In order to create the shape of the beard, repellent is sprayed in the areas on the face where the bees are not supposed to go. Cotton is stuffed in the nose and ears of the individual wearing the beard and bee’s that veer towards the eyes are lightly brushed away.
Colter has been a bee specialist for 28 years. He caught his first swarm in the first summer that he began bee keeping. Since 1976, he has worked with the British Columbia and Ontario Departments of Agriculture and has currently been working with Alberta Agriculture for 21 years.
He provides information to bee keepers and during the winter, writes articles and puts on courses for those interested in learning more about characteristics, care taking and much more about their bees.
“I think that the bee beard was a greater attraction this year at the honey festival then past years because the word has gotten out more. We had people from Prince George, Dawson Creek and Edmonton come to see it and what the honey festival is all about,” says Colter.

Leave a Reply