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The term beard of bees has two possible meanings. In its first sense, it refers to a phenomenon in which bees hang from the side of a hive in a beard-like formation. It is believed that this behavior is caused by the buildup of excess heat within a hive. A beard of bees can also refer to the practice, most common among bee experts and thrill-seekers, of allowing a very large number of bees to sit on the body, sometimes as part of a competition.
For many beekeepers and biologists, the term beard of bees usually refers to a behavior in which bees emerge from a hive and then drape down from its side by clinging to one another. This hanging buildup of bees gives the hive the appearance of having a beard. Bee experts believe that this kind of beard of bees is a natural behavior that occurs when the inside of a hive has become too hot. By hanging outside of the hive, the bees allow themselves and their hive to cool down. They generally return to the inside of their hive once their temperature has dropped.
To some people, a beard of bees is a kind of extreme sport or stunt in which an individual allows a large number of bees to rest on his body. Creating this kind of beard of bees involves placing a queen bee in a cage and then attaching the cage below one’s chin. When bees smell hormones given off by their queen, they instinctively gather around her. Therefore, when a queen is placed near a person’s chin, the bees of that queen’s hive gather on and around that individual’s chin to protect the queen. When the caged queen is removed, the bees follow her and the beard disperses.
Often, this type of beard of bees is formed as part of a competition. Contestants in such competitions are usually judged by the total weight of the bees that come to rest on their bodies. Competitors may attract bees to the chin, neck, and face areas only, or may allow their entire bodies to be covered by the insects. Bee “beards” which cover the entire body can weigh more than 50 pounds (22 kg). While many people find the notion of bee bearding frightening, bearding enthusiasts hold that as long as bees are kept calm during the process, they tend not to sting.