Why Are My Bees Hanging Outside Their Hive at Night?

As a beekeeper, you may notice bees hanging outside their hive at night, a behavior often referred to as "bee bearding." A colony of bees works like a human body. They operate at an optimal temperature. When it gets too hot, both adults and brood suffer, and unfortunately, the brood can’t move out, so the adults do. By clustering outside the hive, the bees work together to regulate the temperature and maintain a comfortable environment for the colony inside.

Common Reasons for Bees Hanging Outside the Hive

Overheating and Ventilation

One of the most common reasons for bees hanging outside their hive is overheating and a lack of proper ventilation. Bees may hang outside their hive to regulate the internal temperature and keep it from becoming too hot and humid. Overcrowding in the hive can lead to a buildup of heat, which is not favorable for brood development or honey production. By hanging outside the hive, bees can help maintain an ideal temperature and humidity level for their colony.

Bearding Behavior

Bearding occurs when bees form a cluster outside the hive, which can resemble a beard. This behavior is typically seen in healthy honey bee colonies during hot and humid weather. Bees may beard outside their hive to provide relief from the heat and create space for better ventilation within the hive.

Addressing the Issue

Improving Hive Ventilation

Bees in the wild don’t beard because the tree absorbs excess moisture and keeps the interior cool. Now that we moved the bees to our thin-walled boxes, beekeepers have to employ other ways to improve the ventilation in the hive, namely:

  • Adding screened bottom boards to allow better airflow
  • Prop up the hive lid, creating a small gap for ventilation
  • Positioning hives in well-ventilated areas, preferably with some shade during hot periods

Managing Bee Congestion

Beekeepers can manage bee congestion by:

  • Adding more hive boxes to provide additional space for the growing colony
  • Splitting the colony into two hives can also prevent swarming
  • Regularly monitoring the hive for any signs of overcrowding and taking appropriate action

Supplemental Feeding during Nectar Shortage

Although not directly related to bearding, a nectar shortage can sometimes cause bees to cluster outside of the hive during hot and humid conditions. Supplemental feeding can help keep bees healthy during periods of scarce nectar resources. Beekeepers can provide supplemental feeding by:

  • Offering a sugar syrup mixture during dry periods when nectar is scarce
  • Providing a pollen substitute to support brood rearing and colony growth

Following these strategies will help beekeepers address the issue of bees hanging outside their hive at night.

Swarming and Hive Expansion

While there are many potential reasons why bees hang outside their hive at night, one possible factor is swarming and the need for hive expansion. In this section, we will discuss the signs of swarming and appropriate expansion techniques.

Identifying Swarming Signs

Swarming occurs when a colony of bees becomes overcrowded, resulting in the formation of a new colony. It’s important to watch for signs that a swarm may be imminent, such as queen cells and an increase in drone bees. Sometimes, bees start to form a “beard” on the outside of the hive, indicating overcrowding and the need for more space.

Appropriate Expansion Techniques

There are various ways to expand a hive, thus reducing the chances of swarming. One common technique is adding additional boxes or supers, which provide the bees with more room to store honey and raise brood.

Another approach is to perform a managed split, creating two colonies from one by moving some frames containing brood, food, and worker bees into a new hive. You will need an extra queen or queen cell for the split to ensure the continuation of the hive.

Ensuring adequate ventilation can also help prevent swarming, as it keeps the internal temperature of the hive in check, preventing overheating and bearding during hot weather.

In conclusion, bearding is the bee equivalent of sitting on the porch on a hot day. It may indicate they need more room in the hive or a screened bottom board for extra ventilation. Once the temperature drops to an acceptable level, the bees will crawl back inside the hive.

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