A description of the planning and behind the scenes activity as well as the ‘on the day’ execution of Philip McCabe’s world record bee beard attempt of 25th June 2005. The pictures are on a separate page.

It was not until the 11th of April 2005 that I became involved in this project, until then I had merely heard rumours, but I was approached by Micheál and his Email went something like this…

Last year I agreed that I and GBBG would provide the bees for the noble beard. I hope to select a team of experienced and reliable beekeepers from the members of GBBG, at this stage I know little about the mechanics of the bee beard process, there are many questions that spring to mind and you may be able to help find the answers. So perhaps you may accept the position of researcher as well as advisor to the project. You might also like to put a new page in your website covering the subject.

Some of the questions that were posed, became headings for various topics that needed to be looked at in more detail. I spent the next few days gathering information and reading every document about bee beards on the internet and various others were looking into other aspects. The list below has been simplified and condensed from hundreds of Emails and other documents, so it may seem a little jumbled, but that is the nature of sorting out a project like this.

How should we prepare the man?

Philip reckoned that he should be smeared with honey to attract the bees. If 500,000 bees were to be achieved, the weight would be considerable so a back bracing belt was considered. A face mask and swimming goggles were proposed as well as cotton wool in ears and navel with sticking plaster to keep them in place, boxer shorts elasticated top and bottom would stop ingress of bees. To monitor the weight he would be standing on precision calibrated scales. Should queens or virgins be used or just queen pheromone lures? Would the synthetic queen pheromone which we use in locating drone congregations help? Should we use some fine water spray or mister to calm the bees and make them cling and cluster? In the actual event swarm lures and queen bee pheromone, which were sponsored by Thorne’s, were fixed under Philip’s chin. Some other pheromone of French origin was tried, but it acted as more of deterrent than an attractant and caused the bare patches that show up in the photographs.

Should we have a trial run?

It was thought that we should have a trial run in advance of the big day using bees from two or three colonies, so as to check our method. I the end this did not happen, mainly due to poor weather and resulting slow development of colonies. As Philip is keen to have another go at the record, then this attempt may be considered as a trial run for the next time.

How about preparing the bees?

The bees obviously have to be in the right ‘frame of mind’ so that they cluster without much flying so some separation of old and young bees would be required. Some type of shook swarm with perhaps the younger bees from two or three colonies packed into polystyrene hives in advance at a distant location to be placed them in a cellar overnight and brought to the site on the morning of the event.

How many colonies would we need to take bees from?

Micheál thought that he could provide them from some of his own resources as well as from the Dún Aonghusa breeding apiary. He had at this stage earmarked between fifteen and twenty colonies from the most docile strain of the past two years and was hoping that he could produce sufficient bees from those to provide a respectable beard. Even if no records are broken, if we had the equivalent of four or five good sized swarms hanging on him it should create a sensational enough spectacle to satisfy the curiosity of the television viewers and there would be a lot of money raised for Bóthar and Bees for Development. Philip would gain the necessary publicity for Apimondia and hopefully GBBG will have proved that such a project can be achieved with our native dark bees as well as the other races which are reputed to be more docile. Provision of bees would not be helped by the late spring due to cold east winds which had prevailed for some weeks, resulting in slow build up of the colonies.

What rules would be made by the Guinness records people?

Verification of the weight, before and after gives the weight of bees and the measurements were recorded by Dr Mary Coffey of Teagasc (The Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority).

Loading the bees onto his body

Several options were considered…

You could have ten hives, each containing the young bees from three colonies, arranged in a tight semicircle and with Philip standing on the scales in the centre. The bees would be shaken on to him from each hive in turn.

The final choice was a purpose made ramp or chute made of polystyrene sheets and covered with a white bed sheet. It was mounted on a ‘workmate’ bench and the end of the chute was carved out to fit exactly the curvature of Philip’s waist. The bees could be tipped into this tray like chute and they would walk up on to Philip’s body.

Removing the bees afterwards

Micheál thought…
We should treat the bees as humanely as possible.
The bees should be conserved as they can be used again to populate stocks of bees. They may be mostly young bees and would be well suited to the heather. Even for drawing foundation if they were given a feed . I think the bees could easily be peeled off with a back of a long knife or other such implement and carried away in ventilated boxes to be subsequently hived as swarms and given a queen each. One brood chamber could be left on the site to collect any bees on the ground or flying bees which might have orientated to the site.

The Scales

Were provided by Avery Berkel Ltd. Paul Fallon, the contracts and hire manager, organised the delivery and calibration/set-up of a weighing machine type: HL122, Serial Number: EQ300703, capacity: 300kg, with increment (division size): 100g. The equipment being complete with an ISO9001 National Standards Definitive Calibration Certificate.

Further information will be added to this page as it can be collated and verified from various different sources.

Many thanks to those that helped in any way towards this event, there are too many to mention individually, but you all know who you are.

Written By Dave Cushman