Do you remember the Stockholm Syndrome? It’s a behavior seen in some hostages in which they develop sympathy for their captors, often to the point of defending them. The most famous case in America is Patty Hearst who, after being captured by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, eventually joined them and helped rob a bank.
What does this have to do with bees? Not much. But a recent discussion of robber bees reminded me of the syndrome. It seems that robber bees, if captured and held within the hive they were robbing, will eventually change allegiance and become part of that colony.
Opinions vary, but three days seems to be a number many beekeepers cite for the length of time the robbers must be held captive. This agrees with the 72 hours often cited for how long you must keep bees locked in a hive before they will perform a reorientation flight. (Beekeepers wanting to move a hive just a short distance can lock the bees in the hive and move it. When released after three days, most bees will reorient themselves to their new position.)
Using robbers to boost a hive’s population
Several beekeepers I know have used robbing bees to boost the population of a failing hive. Once the robbers were inside the hive, they just locked down the hive and waited for three days. By then, most of the robbing bees called the new place home and the colony population was greatly increased. One beekeeper even used a one-way bee escape over the entrance, so robbing bees that got in could not get back out.
Bees locked up like this in the heat of the summer need good ventilation and a source of water. Otherwise, there are few downside risks. Yes, there is a chance of the queen getting killed, but she may have died anyway had the robbing frenzy continued. From what I’ve heard, queens locked up with robbers usually make it. To be on the safe side, you could cage the queen while the colony is confined.
An alternative to keeping the bees locked up for three days is to screen them in just long enough to move them several miles away. Most of the robber bees will re-orient and join the hive in the new location.
Although it is far better to avoid robbing in the first place, this is a fascinating twist on using bee behavior to your best advantage.