Bee bearding is the practice of wearing several hundred thousand honey bees on the face, usually as a sideshow-type demonstration at agricultural shows. Hive bees are attracted into position by a queen in a small cage worn under the chin.
Though beekeepers since ancient times have allowed bees to rest on their bodies in order to demonstrate their rapport with the insects, the practice of congregating measurable quantities of bees on the face was initiated by Petro Prokopovych, a Ukrainian beekeeper, in the 1830s. The practice spread to various “freak” exhibitions at American carnivals by the end of the nineteenth century.
The Guinness Book of Records includes a category for “most pounds of bees worn on the body,” which is currently held by American animal trainer Mark Biancaniello. Biancaniello successfully wore 350,000 bees, weighing just over 87 pounds, during a 1998 broadcast of the Guinness World Records: Primetime television show.
A 2005 attempt to break the record by Irish beekeeper Philip McCabe, who was to wear a full one hundred pounds of bees, failed when only 60 pounds of bees landed on his body. McCabe was using Irish black bees, which are larger than Italian honey bees, so fewer bees (around 300,000) would have been required to reach 100 pounds than it took Biancaniello to reach 87 pounds. Bee bearding records are calculated by weight, not number of bees, because of this variation across honey bee strains.