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Entomology professor creates a buzz with bee beard

August 15, 2011
by Coleman Cornelius

When CSU entomology instructor Matthew Camper wanted to illustrate a point for students, he called for help - from 10,000 bees.

Teddy bears of the insect world

Camper had thousands of the insects buzzing around, crawling on and clinging to his torso, head, neck and face while he offered his mug as the milieu for a bee beard. The entomologist will use photos and videos from the stunt to demonstrate honey bee behavior and disposition for students.

“Honey bees are really gentle, the gentle teddy bears of the insect world,” said Camper, a faculty member in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management. “The bee beard is a great teaching aid to make this point.”

In fact, Camper said, many people confuse honey bees and yellowjacket wasps, mistakenly blaming a bee for a painful sting when a wasp is the real culprit. Indeed, western yellowjackets are responsible for the vast majority of human stings in Colorado, writes Whitney Cranshaw, CSU entomology professor and extension specialist.

Not a new kind of beard

Bee bearding is said to date to the 1800s, when Russian beekeeper Pyotr Prokopovich demonstrated honey bee behavior by encouraging bees to congregate on his face. These days the astounding practice occasionally pops up among beekeepers and is even the focus of an annual competition at a Canadian farm.

Camper created his bee beard on Aug. 8 with assistance from the Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association and Copoco’s Honey & Bee Products in Fort Collins.

Beekeepers, who were shuffling a hive for maintenance, secured a queen bee in a small cage under Camper’s chin. An estimated 10,000 nurse bees swarmed around the briefly displaced queen – in this case converging on Camper’s upper body, neck and face and creating the appearance of a big, buzzing beard.

Don't upset the bees

“I wasn’t worried about the bees at all,” said Camper, who plugged his nose and ears with cotton and protected his eyes with swimming goggles. “I was mostly worried about myself and sitting as still as possible so I wouldn’t upset the bees.”

Camper, who was unscathed, will show photographs and footage of the bee beard to students in his Insects, Science and Society class, an elective open to CSU students in any major.

Check out a short video on CSU’s YouTube featuring Camper with his bee beard.