In the season of nectar scarcity and drought, you may experience your hive being robbed by other honey bees. To prevent your colonies from getting wiped out of their hard work, here are a few details about robbing to give you an understanding this bee behaviour and how to prevent it!
What is Robbing?
Robbing is a behaviour of honey bees trying to invade another hive and stealing their honey stores. The ‘robber bees’ (as I would like to call them) or robbing bees open the capped cells, fill their honey stomachs and try to get out alive. They will fight the resident bees which may cause a lot of them to die in the process.
When does robbing usually occur?
Robbing is not relative to any particular season; however, due to drought, they are most common to occur during late summer or early fall, especially during nectar dearth. Robbing can also be seen early spring, usually before the first major honey flow.
Why do bees rob?
Robber bees will rob another hive if their hive is weak or if they are struggling with drought conditions where nectar sources are scarce. Usually the hive that is being robbed may be a weaker hive and that they are not able to defend themselves.
Identifying Bee Robbery
Bees fighting inside and at the front of the Hive
If you have observed fighting in front of the hive, check if there is fighting inside the hive too. Normally, drones getting kicked out of the hive during the autumn season can be mistaken for robbing. However, if the fighting does exist inside the hive, then it is a definite sign of robbing.
Shredded honeycomb capping
Robbers chew the capping for them to steal the honey stores. Chewed honeycomb capping may have rough edges and a huge amount of wax capping crumbs will be left on the bottom floor.
These are robbers grouped together feeding on the hives honey. They fill their honey stomach and will try to return to their own hive while fighting the resident bees.
Robbing bees are louder than normal bees
Look out for louder buzzes. You’ll definitely notice this if you’ve been around your hive for a while.
How to Stop Robbing
Find the other entrance.
If your hive is being robbed, chances are the robbers found another entrance in the hive. Inspect your hives with open cavities front and back and even on the sides where bees can fit and enter. Your resident bees will only come in and out of the hive from one entrance.
Reduce the entrance to a small opening.
Some beekeepers use grass in the entrance to allow airflow why blocking the entrance.
Install a screen mesh or a robbing screen.
This will prevent the robber bees from entering while the resident bees find an alternative route.
Getting a smoker going will not stop the robbing however it will give you time to close the hive.
Wrap a wet towel or cloth that can cover your hive.
This confuses the robber bees while keeping the hive cool. Don’t worry about the resident bees as they will find their way inside the hive, unlike the robber bees!
Relocate the hive.
Consider relocating a couple of miles away from its original location. If you don’t have that option, relocate somewhere within the vicinity and replace it with a plate or container of some honey. Doing this will convince the robbers that the robbery is still going on. Once they’ve finished the plate, they will move out. However, keep a lookout for the hive that was under attack until you’re sure that the robber bees didn’t find them.
What to do after the robbing:
Once the robbing is under control address the underlying issue that has produced a weak hive.
- Conduct a thorough inspection for pests and diseases especially AFB. Shake bees off the frames so you get a really good look.
- Introduce a new queen if necessary. Check if she is laying a decent amount of eggs.
- Keep the entrance reduced to 3 or 4 bee spaces until numbers build up. Reduce the number of boxes if bee numbers do not warrant two boxes.
- Give some thought to moving the hive to a different location 5km or more away.
How to Prevent Robbing
If your hive has already been robbed, then it may be too late to follow any of the prevention methods. However, this will be useful to reduce the chances of your hive being robbed.
Limit hive inspections during Nectar Dearth
Opening up the hive releases the enticing aroma of honey, pollen and nectar that attract other bees, pests and predators. Once you’ve extracted honey, make sure to harvest it immediately and do not keep it in storage anywhere else. Be alert on nectar dearths by observing the amount of nectar that your bees are storing. Understanding the nectar flow in your area is essential.
Use entrance reducers
Entrance reducers will help reduce the size of your entrances in the season of wasps and robbers. This does not prevent your bees from coming back in or going out and does not limit the guard bees from protecting the hive. Once you sense any threat such as wasps flying around or nectar dearth, install an entrance reducer to prevent any future casualties.
In the season of nectar dearth, only feed your bees internally. Once a couple of non-resident worker bees sense the smell of any sugar syrup, pollen feed or any substitute, this will make it easy for them to find your hives.
This is equipment that you can buy from beekeeping suppliers. Essentially acts as an entrance reducer, however, this one completely blocks robber bees out of the hive. While the robbing is occurring, installing this will give your residents an upper hand in fighting the robbers!
Maintain a strong colony.
Weak colonies are an easy target for robber bees. The weaker your hive, the easier for them to get in and can also result in a lot of casualties, or even losing your hive.