How to Make a Bee Beard

Having about 10,000 bees on your face is one of the best ways to demonstrate how calm and fun bees can be. I have done a few bee beards for demonstrations at fairs and the most common question I get asked is how the bee beard works. I will give a walk through of how we do it. The basic idea is to make the bees think they are in a swarm, but instead of gathering on a tree branch or the like, the bees gather on someone’s chin.

Step 1) Prepare the bees. We find a small, friendly colony and move it during a high flight time to a different apiary site. The foragers cannot find their way to the colony and the colony is left with primarily younger bees. After about 24 hours, we locate the queen and put her in a cage. Next, we shake about 3 lbs of bees from the colony into a package, focusing on the bees from combs with brood.  Then we add the queen, feed the bees with a can of sugar syrup, and put them in a cool, dark location for at least 24 hours. We spray the bees periodically with sugar syrup. Well fed bees are less likely to sting, so we keep them fat and happy.

Step 2) Prepare the person. I put vaseline under my eyes and on lips to prevent the bees from crawling there too much. I put cotton in my ears and up my nose to prevent bees from crawling in. I sometimes tape down my collar and sleeves, and tuck my shirt into my pants and tuck my pants into my socks. It isn’t a good look, but it prevents the bees from getting into my clothing.

Step 3) Add bees. We spray the bees with sugar syrup one last time, then open the package and remove the queen and attach a string to her cage. I sit down in a chair, then an assistant ties the queen around my head, so the queen rests under my chin. I hold a lunch tray against my belly and my assistant dumps the bees onto the tray. The bees will smell the queen, crawl up to her and gather there. The bee feet feel strange and electric as they grip the skin on my face and neck. The cling to each other and hang down like a beard. The bees will “think” they are in a swarm, so they should not be defensive.

Step 4) Remove bees. When I am are ready to get them off, I first remove the queen and place her where I want her to be: either back in the package, or on the next person in line. To remove the majority of the bees, I stand over where I want to bees to go and jump down hard, jarring the bees off. The rest are removed with a soft brush. I let the package sit for a few hours, and after the bees have fully gathered I put the bees and queen back into their old colony.

***Disclaimer: Do NOT try this if you aren’t prepared for something to go wrong with the bees. You will have thousands of stinging insects on your face, so you have to be physically and mentally prepared to deal with getting stung many many times, and potentially on the face. For every bee beard I’ve done, I’ve been stung at least once and I do know of one beard where a person was stung 50+ times. The vast majority of bee beards will go fine and you will get a sting or two at the most. However, if your bees aren’t fed well, the person is not relaxed, the weather is chilly and/or rainy, your bees just have a poor temperament, or some other factor is not in your favor, then the beard could go awry. Keep calm at all times; panic will only increase the stinging. If you have an audience, staying calm becomes even more critical since your panic could endanger others. We keep soapy water to kill the bees and a large shop vacuum around to vacuum them off the person just in case. Demonstrations should be done in screened tents or cages with small wire mesh or some other barrier, but be prepared to deal with escaped bees and people’s fear of them. And, like with all beekeeping, use common sense.

  • Michael Wilson

    Wow, that’s cool. I get this question a lot (well sometimes), but never really knew what was involved to be able to answer. Thanks!

  • Jesse

    Even with bees all over your face, you’re still beautiful ;D

  • gary

    How likely is it that you move the wrong muscle and make the bees angry enough to attack? I heard that the CO2 in human breath makes bees angry.

    • Katie Lee

      You can squish bees by accident and get stung, or you could panic and start moving quickly then get stung. Doing a bee bread is like keeping bees – you need to be calm and collected with controlled movements. If you are uncomfortable working bees without gloves or a full suit, then I would not recommend trying a bee beard. Bees don’t like it when you blow on them, but I have never had issues by just breathing normally. Bees produce CO2 when they breathe, too. I have done somewhere around 12-15 bee beards without any serious incident. (Not to say I’ve not been stung with a beard, but the worst was when I was once stung about 5 times in the ear, which isn’t too bad.) You do need to be able to handle if something does go wrong and you do get stung quite a number of times. The possibility of being stung-up is pretty low if you are working with experienced people and calm bees, but it could happen. The most important thing for a good, calm bee beard is to have young, well-fed bees think they are swarming.

  • Pingback: The Bee Whisperer | The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

  • http://www.kalimborachel@yahoo.com Rachel

    am studyng a course of beekeepina at the Beekeeping training institute(tabora-Tanzania)….i want 2 know more on how 2 make a bee beard,,i appreciated ur knowledge,,and if u dont mind make me come there and learn more,,i enjoy keeping bees and i love my coming career..all the best

  • Jordi

    “For every bee beard I’ve done, I’ve been stung at least once and I do know of one beard where a person was stung 50+ times…use common sense.”

    I came across this for the weirdest reasons, and I can’t lie – some of the passages above make me giggle or LOL I’ve never been stung in my entire life, and I know they’re just bees but I always imagined it was like the worst thing ever. (Not actually the worst thing, just like it, in that moment of being stung.)

    So, common sense would not be to discharge a fire extinguisher into one’s own face once the panic starts to set in? Would be my first inclination. Nonchemical, of course.

    • Katie Lee

      Ha! This is hilarious! Good mental image.
      Common sense to me is that if you think that you are not going to be able deal if the bees start stinging (or just be calm in general with all the bees on your face), then don’t do it. Being stung by bees is not that bad – google “Schmidt Pain Index” – but it isn’t fun to be stung either. However, you learn to deal with it. To me, doing a bee beard is totally worth the risk of the stings :)

  • Kate Moody

    I have done 2 beards now. I’m pretty sure we made the caged colony queenless for the night prior to make them want the queen more. I think. Do you have any comments on this approach as opposed to keeping the bees queenright as you do.