Beekeeping is not without its challenges. However, with the right knowledge, skills, and tools, it remains one of the most interesting and fulfilling. Astute beekeepers know what beehive robbing is and are aware of its repercussions. Essentially, robbing occurs when bees from the next hive decide to attack those in your hive. In some cases, the beekeeper may mistake this attack with normal activity. They may think that business is good since the bees look motivated; however, assuming this a big mistake. You need to recognize robbing and know how you can handle it if it occurs.
Why beehive robbing occurs
Robing is just a normal behavior characteristic of foraging. Bees must find food for the colony under all circumstances. This becomes difficult when nectar is scarce. Therefore, the intensity of robbing increases as nectar gets scarce. Robbing would not happen when nectar is all over. It is not worth the trouble for them.
A foraging bee will attempt to sneak in a hive and steal honey, and if it succeeds, it goes and comes back with more robbers. Stronger colonies rob the poorly guarded or weaker colonies.
The robbing bees are normally foragers or scouts. They do not damage the brood or carry away the pollen since their main purpose is the honey. The robber and guard bee fight fiercely, and if the intruder prevails, they seek out the cells with syrup or honey. They fill their crop to the brim and fly off with the spoils.
If a colony is weak, it does not have an adequate number of bees to prevent attacks from populous hives. This becomes even worse when the larger colonies become accustomed to a source of honey. They may rob the target hive for days on end until nothing is left. This can spell doom for the colony unless you do something about it.
Why is robbing such a bad thing?
Hive robbing is not something that you would want to happen to your hive for several reasons. First, the number of casualties of the resulting war between the bees is enormous. Bees do not take such an attack lying down. They fight to the death defending the hive, and this loss of life can potentially destroy a colony.
If in any case, the honeybees are unable to defend the hive, the invading bees can take away its food. A tragedy! You don’t want to imagine what would happen to your starving colony. Furthermore, robbing alters your hive’s disposition. The bees can become violent and hard to deal with.
Telling the difference
Now that you know robbing is not a good thing, how do you tell when it is actually happening? How can you distinguish between a normal activity and a robbing situation? Foraging bees act differently when going on their daily chores than when in combat with invading bees. You can tell they have a purpose. They get off the hive and are soon away. When returning from their foraging, they are usually heavy with food. They land solidly and do not have the time and energy to linger at the entrance.
Sometimes, the entrance may seem unusually busy. However, this may not be a cause for worry. Young bees need to orient themselves with their home, and so they hover around the entrance. You may see a large number of them around the hive, and there is no cause for alarm.
In contrast, robbing takes on an aggressive tone. As a beekeeper, it is imperative that you recognize the telltale signs of robbing.
First, the invaders do not go straight to the entrance; they float around the hive looking for an opportunity to bypass the guard bees. Their main goal is to sneak in and rob the colony of its honey and nectar.
A closer look can tell you if the bees are engaged in combat or not. Guard bees usually embrace in fighting giving their own life for the protection of the colony.
Furthermore, the robbing bees usually leave the hive to have trouble flying. They are heavy with honey and most often fly up and away. Their flight path is not straight either. The robbing bees flight path seem too dip.
What you can do to stop robbing
If a hive is under attack, you can stop it by using a wet bed sheet. Soak the sheet in water and cover the hive with it. The draping water will prevent attacking bees from gaining access to the hive. When the weather is hot and dry, you can rewet the sheet as necessary. Within two days, the robbing should have stopped.
You can also reduce the entrance significantly. Keeping the width of the entrance to a single bee makes sure that your colony has a good chance of defending itself. However, you should observe caution when the weather is hot. Reducing the entrance can make the temperature within the hive unbearable.
If the problem becomes chronic, move the weaker and vulnerable colonies to another location. The next step will be to fix the problem that had initially led to the robbing. Equalize the hives as necessary and fix the holes between the supers.
Some beekeepers utilize commercial product with strong smelling compounds. These compounds confuse the robbing bees, and they eventually stop. An example of such a product is Vicks Vaporub.
If the problem is within the apiary, then some beekeepers recommend removing the covers from all the hives. The idea is that it will keep all the bees busy trying to defend their own hives that they will stop robbing.
If you do not want robbing to happen, you need to watch where you leave your honey as it acts as a beacon. If the honey is closer to a hive, it acts an as an encouragement for robbing. It is, therefore, necessary to keep the supers covered when honey harvesting.
You need to be careful when feeding your bees. A single drop of the sugar syrup is enough to attract robbers. Try not to spill the syrup as it is a recipe for disaster.
If your hive is weak, always make sure that the entrance is small. Use the entrance reducer to achieve this objective and close the inner cover hole.
Avoid feeding the bees in the wide open – especially close to the hives.