I’m usually given looks of disbelief or statements of “you are so brave” when people see photos of me with a bee beard. Ironically, the bees are incredibly calm while they’re placed. This is because they are in a swarming state, meaning they do not have a hive to protect and most are only interested in staying close to their queen bee. In nature, swarming occurs when the colony is booming and ready to split into two colonies. To the insects in a bee beard, your face replaces a tree or branch.
I was first exposed to bee beards through photos in my best friend’s childhood album. I too, was shocked at how an eleven-year-old could look so composed whilst thousands of bees crawled over her face. After she explained to me how docile and friendly they can be I was eager to try one, and get an amazing photo-op as well! So when the opportunity to try one during the Honeybee Festival at Honeybee Centre came up, I jumped on it.
The first step was to prepare myself by plugging my ears, taping my sleeves down and tucking in my shirt, to prevent the bees from getting into unwanted places. The lady who would be placing the beard and I chatted about the process as people began to gather to watch the display. She greeted the crowd and the demonstration commenced. Although a bit nervous, I kept in mind the importance of staying calm- not only for the bees but also for the fact that there are many people who are afraid of bees and I wanted to help show that they really are gentle creatures.
I took a deep breath and smiled as she placed the queen bee around my neck. To keep track of her, she had been temporarily separated from the other bees put into a little cage with string fashioned around it. Next, I was handed a sheet of thick paper to hold close to my body so that she could gently shake the swarm onto me. The bees were then added a couple hundred at a time until they were all placed.
I could feel thousands of tiny prickly bee legs tickle me as they quickly moved up my neck and arms towards their queen. They are keen to huddle around her, so as soon as they could smell her it did not take long for me to have a full-grown beard! It was an odd sensation that I would compare to wearing a mask that was slightly vibrating and noisy. At this point in the demonstration I did a slow walk around while people gawked and clicked their cameras. To remove the bees, I was instructed to slightly lean over a large piece of cardboard and jump in a quick jolt. The majority of them came off in one large clump while the rest were brushed off.
The most commonly asked question I get is “did you get stung at all?” While it is possible to be stung during a beard and that is something that you have to keep in mind going into it, I did not get stung even once. Additionally, when I jumped to remove the bees, I had about ten get into my shirt from my neckline. I remained calm, untucked my shirt and let them fly out… not a single disgruntled bee! I even found that one had stuck around behind my ear a half hour later. Bee beards are a wonderful way to showcase that bees are not to be feared, that they can be calm and friendly! The bee beard was a success, I hadn’t been stung and I got my awesome photo-op!
Kelsey is a member of the Main Street Honey Shoppe team and is now helping take care of the Main Street Honey Shoppe hives in Vancouver.