About Robber Bees & How to Stop Hive Robbing

In the next 10 minutes, you’ll have answers to the following:

  • What are robber bees?
  • Why do bees rob honey?
  • When does hive robbing happen?
  • How can you tell when a hive is being robbed?
  • How long does hive robbing last?
  • How can you prevent hive robbing?
  • What are the different ways in which you can mitigate the effects of hive robbing?
  • How do bees harvest honey while robbing?
  • What are the risks of hive robbing?

To answer your first question, 

Robber bees are honey bees that steal honey from other beehives. 

Why do bees rob honey?

As hardworking as they are, bees are also very cautious. They want to stay prepared for difficult times. This is why they make sure to hoard resources. And their way to hoard resources is to sometimes rob honey from poorly guarded hives.

Robber Bees - How to Stop Hive Robbing
Image Source: instructables.com

When does hive robbing happen?

There are 2 main factors that influence hive robbing:

  1. Climatic conditions 

For instance, it’s more likely for bees to fall short of resources in early spring. This is because the first flow of nectar hasn’t yet arrived at that time. Similarly, during fall and summer as well, bees find it difficult to find nectar for their own hives, and so rob others’.

While researching for this post, I found this mind-blowing resource from the University of Delaware (UD) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, explaining the seasonal cycles of activities in colonies. If you’re a bee-nerd, this is right up your alley. Check it out, here.

  1. Honeybee colony strength 

If a honeybee colony is fighting a disease, they’re weak. Weak colonies are easy targets for robber bees. If a colony is resilient, has a large number of bees, and has a queen bee who is laying enough eggs, it is clearly strong.

How can you tell when a hive is being robbed?

Here are some of the dead giveaways:

  1. There’s too much activity

If you find that a calm hive is suddenly noisy, it’s because robber bees have invaded that hive. You will spot bees crawling all over the place, probing for entrances. Once the regular bees have spotted the robber bees, fights take place. There’s a lot of rolling around and tumbling in the air.

  1. Many bees are dead 

Because of the fight resulting from the robbery, you’ll spot many dead bees on the ground around the beehive.

  1. Wasps have surrounded the hive

Wasps and other pests are attracted to honey and dead bees. If you find the hive to be surrounded by these pests, the hive could be getting robbed.

  1. Wax comb is present on the landing board 

When robber bees rip open the comb and cells to reach the honey, they leave some of the combs behind.

  1. Bees are not taking off from the landing

How to identify robber bees? 

Because they’ve gorged on so much honey, robber bees are too heavy to take off from the landing. Instead, they crawl up on the hive wall and take off from there. 

That’s when you can tell that those bees are robber bees.

How long does hive robbing last?

Once a hive is invaded by robber bees, it only takes 1 or 2 days for the hive to be absolutely unrecoverable.

How can you prevent hive robbing?

Curious about how to stop bee robbing? Try these:

  1. Protect the queen bee 

A bee colony without a queen is weak. And a weak colony is an easy target for robber bees. With a queen, the entire bee colony is bound together. (it’s because the queen bee produces pheromones!)

Learn more about the role of the queen bee here.

  1. Use bee robbing screens 

Robbing screens divert robber bees from the real opening of the hive. These new doors are placed above a surface that doesn’t allow the hive odor to escape. When robber bees can’t sniff the door, they can’t enter.

Here is the detailed guide about robbing screens.

  1. Place honey bee feeders inside the hive 

Ensure you keep your bees well-fed to prevent hive robbing. And don’t spill the honey you’re feeding to your bees. If you spill honey, it could attract bees from other colonies to the hive. This will cause hive robbing.

  1. Get an entrance reduction 

When food resources start becoming lesser in the environment, reduce the entrances of the hives. This will make it easy for the bees to guard their hives. In fact, it only takes about 20 minutes to close the beehive once its entrance has been reduced.

  1. Remove dead bees immediately

Dead bees will leave behind food stores that could attract robber bees. Additionally, dead bees will also spread diseases.

  1. Watch out for Italian bees

This subspecies of bees has been observed to engage in robbing behavior more frequently than other subspecies.

  1. Combine bee colonies to make them stronger

Weaker colonies can be combined with stronger ones to form one strong colony. You can even use the queen bee of the colony to strengthen the genetics of other beehives.

5 steps to mitigate the effects of hive robbing

If a beehive is already being robbed, follow these steps:

  1. Use a bee smoker

A bee smoker is a device that can help keep bees at bay. If you find several robber bees in a hive, the smoke generating from your device will calm them down.

Check out how to light a smoker.

  1. Seal up the beehive

Trapping robber bees can be easy with this method. As soon as you notice a hive being robbed, seal it up. This will frustrate the robber bees that are waiting outside and they’ll eventually go elsewhere to hunt for food sources. As for the trapped robber bees, they might have to put up a fight with the regular bees.

  1. Throw a wet towel over the hive

Make sure the towel is saturated with water. Robber bees will wonder what’s happening and eventually leave the hive. Furthermore, the wet towel will help keep the hive cool as well.

  1. Spread strong-smelling compounds inside the hive

Once you notice a hive being robbed, spread compounds like eucalyptus oil and camphor to mask the beehive’s smell.

Once you mask the smell coming from the beehive, the robber bees will find it difficult to find the entrance to the hive.

  1. Open all the hives

Opening up lids of every hive will make the robber bees get back to their hives. Because they will realise their own hives are under attack too!

However, this method of robbery protection can be risky. It’s best to be carried out by experienced beekeepers. Because opening up hives can also make hives more susceptible to other predators.

To follow good beekeeping practices, use this manual published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Find it here.

I hope these tips help you get rid of robber bees.

Wonder how robber bees harvest honey while robbing?

As soon as the robber bees enter the hive, they target the honeycomb cells. These cells are typically already open, which ensures that the bees can remove the honey quickly.

Next, assuming there’s a layer of wax on the cells, the robber bees use their jaws (known as mandibles) to create a large enough hole that can help them suck up the nectar.

What are the risks of hive robbing?

There are two major risks of honey bee robbing behavior:

  1. The weakening of bee colonies: This is the obvious risk because hive robbing leads to depletion of resources for regular bees.
  2. The transfer of diseases between colonies: When robber bees invade colonies by using their jaws and tongues to scour honey, it leads to the spread of several deadly diseases between colonies.

In this article, you learned:

  • How to identify robber bees and hive robbing
  • Effective ways to prevent hive robbing
  • Useful tips to negate the impact of hive robbing

Read here: