How to Grow a "Bee Beard"

The following is an article from the book Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader.

(Image credit: Flickr user John Donges)

Warning! Do not even THINK about doing this at home.


You’ve probably seen pictures of bee beards— brave and foolhardy people with their lower faces covered in insects, as if they’re auditioning for some kind of entomologist-only version of ZZ Top. It’s an old pastime among thrill-seeking bee fanciers. Ukrainian beekeeper Petro Prokopovych, the inventor of several beekeeping innovations still in use today, modeled the first bee beard in the 1830s. Demonstrating what he’d learned about bee-swarm behavior, Prokopovych placed a captive queen in a cage under his chin and released thousands of bees near his face. Sure enough, the bees went into their typical swarming behavior, bunching tightly around their queen, creating a “beard” that hung off his chin. Naturally, his stunt inspired imitators, and bee bearders soon became as popular in carnivals and freak shows as fat ladies, dog-faced boys, and wild men of Borneo.


(Image credit: Flickr user Alfred Shum)

Making a bee beard isn’t difficult, but it takes guts and a willingness to be stung a few times. Warning: This is NOT recommended for kids or anyone with an allergy or aversion to bee stings or any level of good sense… But, here’s how it’s done:

• Select a hive with easy-going bees willing to put up with your outrageous shenanigans without exacting too much revenge. (You must be experienced with bees to be able to identify this kind of hive.)

• Find the queen and lock her in a “queen cage”— a small wooden box with metal screening on one side that looks sort of like a homemade kazoo.

• For a lush, full beard, you need about 12,000 bees (three pounds). Box them up with the captive queen the day before, keep them in the dark, and feed them well. Spritzing them with sugar water is said to work pretty well for this. The intent is to calm them.

• When you’re ready for the beard, tie the queen cage (screen facing out, not against your skin) under your chin. Protect your eyes with swim goggles. Bees will crawl everywhere, so cover your hair, button and secure your shirt, tuck your pants into your socks, put cotton loosely in your nostrils and ears, and put vaseline around your mouth and eyes.

• Remaining calm from this point on may seem counter-intuitive, but it is very, very important. Open the box and hold it against your chest so they can smell the queen. They will begin crawling up your neck to surround the queen’s cage, hanging in bee garlands from your skin and each other.

• If all goes well, the worst that will happen is that you’ll have to get used to the slightly electric sensation of thousands of bees gripping your skin with their barbed feet. Pose triumphantly for photos.

• While things are still going well, have your assistant untie the queen cage from your neck and place it inside the box you want the bees to return to.

• Standing over the box, jump up into the air and land hard. Do this only once and do it well. This will dislodge most of the bees onto your feet and the ground around your feet. (Aren’t you glad you tucked your pants into your socks?) The befuddled bees will smell the queen and begin crawling toward and into the box. Any remaining bees can be gently brushed off with a bee brush. Eventually, all of them will make their way back to the box, ready to be transported home.

(YouTube link)

 Final note: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Odds are pretty good that you’ll get a sting or two, even if you do it right. Experienced bearders sometimes misjudge the bees, the weather, or their own calmness and get stung dozens of times. Be prepared for medical emergencies and the potential of bees attacking civilians. Although they dread having to use them, pros keep two emergency tools handy: a sprayer filled with soapy water that can kill masses of bees… and an industrial shop vacuum to dispose of the evidence.


As if a three-pound beard isn’t impressive enough, there’s a new trend in competitive bee bearding, in which the beard covers the bearder’s entire body. World record: 87 pounds of bees (approximately 350,000 of them), set in 1998 by American Mark Biancaniello.


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader. The 26th annual edition of Uncle John’s wildly successful series is all-new and jam-packed with the BRI’s patented mix of fun and information.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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