If beekeeping is the serious and work-intensive part of having anything to do with bees, then bee bearding is the fun part of it. If, that is, your idea of fun is having tens or even hundreds of thousands of bees crawling all over you while suppressing the urge to run away. Read on for more pictures and to see what motivates people to bee this adventurous.
Though bee bearding is by no means a recent activity, it has rarely made it to a dictionary entry. Wikipedia defines bee bearding as “the practice of wearing several hundred thousand honey bees on one’s face, usually as a sideshow-type activity.”
A bee in his bonnet?
it’s no wonder that the Guinness Book of Records has kept a category of “most pounds of bees worn on the body.” The bees are weighed rather than counted because depending on the honey bee strain, their weight can differ considerably.
The current Guinness Book record holder is Mark Biancaniello, an American animal trainer. In 1998, he wore 350,000 bees weighing 87 pounds. The previous record was held by Dren Rollins, owner of a tattoo parlour, who wore 81 pounds of bees in a 1995 Nebraska country fair as part of his enthusiasm for “extreme sports.” He still holds the title for the most pounds of bees worn by an “amateur.”
Irish beekeeper Michael McCabe attempted to challenge the world record in 2005 but failed when “only” 60 pounds of bees landed on him. With the stakes being so high, merely having a beard of bees would not be enough to break the record. Almost the whole body would now be needed to provide sufficient surface area for the bees to land. Before you make a beeline to try this out at home, be aware that such a feat requires some prior knowledge and considerations. Or perhaps we should say that the preparations keep contestants busy as bees.
Michael McCabe during the world record attempt:
For those wondering about the bee-free patches on McCabe’s thighs and stomach, he sprayed two different varieties of the synthetic pheromone to attract the bees. One worked, the other one had the opposite effect, hence the bare patches.
Many contestants stuff cotton into their ears and nose for obvious reasons. Then, they take a thin pipe into their mouths for breathing. Some wear baseball caps, swimming goggles or face masks. It all depends on how much contact you can take. Very tight fitting shorts might be a good idea in any case. Weight is also an issue (the bees’ that is) so some contestants may wear a back bracing belt.
Would you kiss this guy?
We wonder what contestants do when they have to pee. Or sneeze. Or just have the urge to scratch themselves. After all, McCabe finally had to give up because his legs went to sleep. Here’s a step-by-step video of how to “build” (more like scoop) a beard of approximately 50,000 bees, demonstrated by a very serious young man. Don’t miss him putting something in his mouth during the first minute:
The good thing about bee bearding is that though it looks dangerous, it works without major accidents. Bees in a swarm, tanked up with honey, are full and therefore quite docile but they also don’t have a hive to defend. Instead, they will look for a spot where they can set up a new nest.
The ultimate proof of the almost mass appeal of bee bearding is the fact that the “sport” made it into an episode of the Simpsons, “The Burns and the Bees”, where Lisa can be seen wearing a bee beard to help the local bee population flourish.
And in case you were wondering if people have made a living of the show effect of bees, the answer is yes! Meet Dr. Norman Gary, an apiculturist (honey bee scientist) better known as the “bee wrangler” who has provided trained bees to the entertainment world for over 40 years. Examples include movies like The X Files, Candyman, The Savage Bees and many others.
Dr. Norman Gary playing the clarinet while being covered in bees:
Dr. Gary says about his work:
“Intensive work by a bee wrangler on the set doesn’t permit much time for verbal exchanges except those that are necessary to achieve the objectives. When I’m bee wrangling I’m extremely focused, perhaps even a “little odd”…. The greatest problem I have is that people don’t believe that I can actually train bees to do almost anything imaginable, on cue and safely. Real bees will always produce the best image quality!”
Oh, and Dr. Norman Gary is also the Guinness world record holder in the category “most bees in mouth”, with 109 (!) in his closed mouth for ten seconds in 1998. Says Dr. Gary about the secret of this success: “Basically, you must have a big mouth and know how to keep it shut at the right moment.”
Sounds like one of those golden rules for life.