I have written before about how bearding and swarming are often confused, but now I’m confused. Normally, at this time of year, I would say these bees were bearding, but that’s not how the story ends.
Last week, Joan, a beekeeper in Pennsylvania, said there were many bees aggressively flying around both of her hives and clustering at the four corners, front and back, of the weaker hive. The weaker hive contained a feeder of syrup in the top box, and since robbers follow the scent of food, I thought that robbers from the strong hive were trying to find their way into the weaker one. I recommended reducing the entrances and making sure the robbers couldn’t find their way in under the lid.
Then Joan wrote back:
I put in the reducers and today there are thousands and thousands of bees bearding all around the one hive. Many have pollen and don’t seem to know where to go as the entrance is reduced to about 3/4-inch. It is very hot and humid in Pennsylvania today with storms predicted late and cool coming by Tuesday. The 2nd hive appears normal looking. I have seen bearding several times before but never like this . . . wish I could send you a pic . . . I don’t think robbing is going on . . . should I leave the reducers in? I’m still a newbee.
At that point, I recommended taking the reducer out of the strong hive and leaving it in the weak one. I still believed robbers were picking up the odor of the syrup feeder in the weak hive and that the stronger hive was bearding due to the hot and humid weather.
The she wrote back again:
So as you see the bearding here, I can’t get near that hive and 3/4 of them stayed outside bearding all night. I simply cannot figure this one out. The excluder is still in and they have managed to unplug the hole in the top. . . . These bees even stayed out in the rain, not a storm, but fine and short drizzles. Right now they are clustered at the bottom of the hive leaving plenty room for those with pollen to go in and out. Your thoughts?
This is where I screwed up: I didn’t see the attached photo. In the haste of answering dozens of e-mails, it just didn’t register. From her description, I still assumed the bearding was normal for this time of year. She mentioned seeing pollen, and swarming bees don’t carry pollen.
The next day, I got this e-mail:
Just checked again for the zillionth time . . . they are swarmed in a tree in the yard. There are still lots of bees in front of the hive.
At this point I noticed the attached photo. Does this look like bearding, or does this look like a swarm that settled on its own hive while looking for a new home? Or is this a swarm from some other hive? Or is this a combination of bearding (which accounts for the pollen-carrying bees) and a swarm? I would really like to hear what you think. It really threw me to hear these bees swarmed into a tree, and I’m not really sure what to make of it. Your opinions are most welcome.