How to stop robbing

No matter how you do it, you must stop robbing or you may lose your colony. Robbing bees will tear open all the honey cells and clean up every last drop. Fighting between bees will kill many and, once the hive is overpowered, predators such as wasps will move in and kill any remaining bees and brood.

Robbing is most common during a nectar dearth and can often be prevented by restricting the entrance to the hives. This works because the colony has a greater chance of defending a small opening than a large one. With very weak or small colonies, however, even this may not be enough.

Robbing can be identified in several ways:

  • Fighting. Bees will tumble and roll—sometimes on the landing board, sometimes in the air.
  • Dead bees may be seen on the landing board or on the ground in front of the hive.
  • Robbing bees can often be seen examining all the cracks and seams in a hive, even at the back and sides.
  • Robbing bees are often accompanied by wasps.
  • Some of the bees in the fray may appear shiny and black. This appearance is created when the bees lose their hair while fighting. Both attackers and defenders may have this appearance.
  • Robbing bees are never carrying pollen on their legs.
  • Robbing bees often sway from side to side like wasps, waiting for an opportunity to enter the target hive.
  • Pieces of wax comb may appear on the landing board.
  • Robbing bees are louder than normal bees.
  • Because robbing bees are loaded down with honey when they leave the target hive, they often crawl up the wall before they fly away and then dip toward the ground as they take off. This may not be immediately obvious, but if you study them for a while, you can see it.

Once it starts, stopping a robbing frenzy is not easy.

  • Smoking will not stop robbing, but it will give you a reprieve while you close up the hive. I get the smoker going well and set it next to the hive while I work.
  • Reduce entrances to a very small opening. Some beekeepers stuff grass in the entrance—a technique that keeps out the robbers but allows some airflow.
  • If robbing is really intense, you can simply close up the hive opening with hardware cloth or screen in a size the bees cannot get through (#8 or #10 work well).
  • A water-saturated towel thrown over the hive confuses the robbers but allows the hive residents to come and go from underneath the towel. Evaporation from the towel keeps the hive cool.
  • Install a robbing screen. This device re-routes the hive residents through an alternative entrance while the robbing bees, following the scent of the hive, continue to butt into the screen.
  • Some beekeepers spread a commercial product such as Vicks Vaporub at the entrance to the colony. This product contains strong-smelling compounds such as camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol that confuse the robber bees.
  • Some beekeepers recommend removing the lids from all the hives in the apiary. The theory is that the bees become so busy defending their own hives that they stop robbing other hives. However, if the robber bees are coming from somewhere other than your own apiary, it won’t work. Also, it will do nothing to stop wasps and other predators from entering the hives at will.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite.com

Comments

BrendaSeader
Reply

Rusty,

I really look forward to your posts, and have learned a lot from you.

I belong to a new bee club, and members are mostly novice beekeepers. Funds are tight as yet, and we do not always have a speaker, so sometimes meetings lag a little. Could I have permission to print and hand out copies of some of your blogs to use as discussion material? I would certainly give you the credit (what is your last name?) for the information. I think some information like this would help us start discussions, and give the members some information to take back to their beeyards.

Thanks for your consideration, and all the information you’ve given me about my bees.

Brenda

Rusty
Reply

Brenda,

I sent you an e-mail.

Rusty

Jeremy
Reply

I have been keeping bees for about 3 years. I opened a couple of my traditionally stronger hives today and noticed that nearly the entire bottom brood box was devoid of bees, honey, brood, etc. Even though I had reduced the entrance late in the summer, I assume that the hives have been victims of robbers. I made candy boards and began feeding the remaining bees (there are a lot less than normal). Is there anything else that I can do to try to get the hives through the winter or is it a waste of time? Should I just chalk them up to lost?

Suggestions and advice, as always, are greatly appreciated.

Jeremy

Rusty
Reply

Hi Jeremy,

I’m a little confused. You say that the bottom brood box was empty of bees, honey, and brood. That doesn’t sound unusual. The bee cluster tends to eat it’s way upward during the winter. So by mid-winter or spring, the lower boxes may be pretty much empty.

Is there a specific reason you suspect robbers? Combs torn apart with ragged edges may be a sign of robbing, but if you still have stores remaining and you still have bees remaining, I wouldn’t give up on them. Small clusters are also normal for the winter. Depending on the type of bees you have, the clusters may be very small.

Keep feeding them and start adding some pollen substitute to the candy boards.

It’s possible your bees didn’t store much in the bottom brood box compared to other years. I’d say as long as their are bees there is hope.

dave
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Maybe you remember me from earlier needing info on preventing swarms. Well thank you for the info, saved a swarm due to an overnight split; it worked great. Now I have another question. Hopefully I can get your input.

Approximately two weeks ago I spilled some syrup, wellllll! A quart to be exact. Caused robbing. Built some robber screens for all hives on Friday and installed them Friday night at dark. It’s been storming last few days as you experienced (I live in southwest Oregon) and have not been able to check the hive for stores and will not for a few more.

Today went and just looked at the hives and noticed still robbers around and wanting in but residents want in as well with pollen on their legs. Screens are 8″ high, 3/4 deep with a 2” wide entrance 1/2″ deep, top completely open. I believe my hives are very strong. 2 broods boxes full with supers.

Question#1: Do I ignore the residents, or just give the screens time to work. Hard to say if robbers have figured out how to go over at this point.

Question #2: Do you think the robbers could be coming from my hives and have figured out entrance to and from sense all screens are alike on all hives.

Question #3: Should I remove supers as soon as possible and return them later in the winter months?

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

1. The resident bees will find their way in as long as the entrance is open at the top. I would not worry about them.

2. The robbers are probably coming from you other hives, but they are following the scent and that is why the keep trying to get in cracks and other openings. They won’t learn the way in. And if a few accidentally get in, the hive residents will take care of them. Trust your robbing screens; they work amazingly well.

3. You can, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Do what makes you comfortable. There shouldn’t be too much robbing going on any more, with all this rain and cold.

dave
Reply

Rusty,

The robber screens worked well, like you said, but I lost some resident bees due to, I think, they couldn’t find their way back in, but no great loss.

I opened the hives today and, low and behold, a great thriving hive, queenright, laying eggs, thank you. Stress relief. But there are sure a lot of bees flying in front, screens are still in place. I removed honey supers and they were not too happy. But the brood chambers had lots of stores, so do you think that maybe a 1/2″-1″ entrance reducer would work as well as robber screens at this point, or should I keep the screens intact for awhile longer? I’m pleased with your valuable input.

Also did a organic powdered sugar treatment to control some mites detected 5-15ct/24-30hr mite board in place. I have a screened bottom board great ventilation for hot or cold application.

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

If the hive is as strong as you say, a 3/4-inch opening should work just fine.

Sounds like a lot of mites. Did you do a sugar roll?

dave
Reply

Yes, did the sugar roll the best I could on two hives, two broods each. Hard to see the mite drop sense the powdered suger is pulled off the board when extracting it from screen bottom board. But I think I’m in good shape. Will check again in one week. Also removed two supers each, lots of bees in the brood now. Worried about overcrowding. Also lots of stores in the brood, some brood, eggs, and larva, queen is healthy. I’m happy! You are the greatest on info.

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

Follow the link I gave you yesterday. The sugar roll test is a very specific protocol involving bees that you put in a jar. It is not the same as a sticky board count; it is much more reliable.

Don’t worry about over-crowding this time of year. You need all those bodies for warmth, and the population will soon start dropping.

Brenda B
Reply

I am in northeast Alabama we are in our second year of beekeeping. Yesterday, I noticed that one of my hives was being robbed; it is very hot here and will be probably well into October. Will putting a entrance reducer on my hives make it too hot for them? I have one hive that is hanging outside on the porch all the time. We have 4 hives. Two of them are our original hives, the other 2 are new. The robbing was on one of my new hives.

Rusty
Reply

Brenda,

It depends. As long as you have screened bottom boards and screened inner covers, they will get plenty of ventilation.

Brenda B
Reply

Rusty,

I am not familiar with a screened inner cover. Where can I see that?

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