honey bee behavior robbing

Robbing bees on a mission

After the recent discussion of robbing bees, beekeeper Kenneth Rhodes sent in the following photos of bees from one of his hives attempting to rob the other. They provide an excellent illustration of robbing in action.

Because robbing bees are unfamiliar with the hive they are stealing from, they try to enter at the point where they detect the scent. In the hives below, the robbing bees are clustered at the intersection between the brood box and inner cover. This makes sense because the airflow through a hive is “in through the bottom, out through the top.” Consequently, the smell of honey and/or syrup is coming out the top along with the warm air.

Robbing bees on a mission to take whatever they can get

In this case, there is also a small cluster at the bottom where Kenneth says he used an entrance feeder that leaked out of the corner. This hive had been decimated by yellowjackets and he was trying to build it back up with syrup when the robbing incident occurred. Because the mouth of an entrance feeder is close to the hive opening, they are famous for starting robbing frenzies, especially during a nectar dearth.

Thanks so much for the photos, Ken. This is a case where a picture is worth a thousand words.


Ken-Rhodes-robbing bees on a mission

Robbing bees following the scent. Photo © Kenneth Rhodes.

Robbing bees on a mission, trying to break into a hive.

Entrance feeders frequently attract robbers. Photo © Kenneth Rhodes.


  • What’s with the yellow strip being held up by the gardening tool? Is it to block the entrance to keep the robbers out?

    Can’t you just put out a nectar feeder somewhere away from the hive being robbed to lure the robber bees away? Or would that cause more problems?

    And Rusty, if you could recommend just one book for a beginning beekeeper, what would it be? I’ve tried to narrow them down myself on Amazon based on reviews, but it just makes my head swim. After reading your blog for awhile now, I trust your opinion. We’re headed back to Washington State sometime in the next year, so I’ll get a chance to join a bee club and actually learn about this insanity :), but in the mean time, I’d like to do some book learning. Thanks!

    • Caroline,

      The yellow strip is a block of wood being used to keep out the robbers. The bees are still inside.

      Apparently, based on reader feedback, a feeder can be used to deter robbers as long as it stays full.

      Did you try the Bookshelf section? I’m expanding it soon, probably within the next month, but it will get you started.

  • I have never seen that. That is great to see with the pics. Wow! I will have to look out for robbers like that. So, in this case is the colony gone? i.e. Is there anyone inside? Thanks!

    • Yes, the bees are still inside. The entrance block is there to keep the colony and the robbers separate and avoid more damage.

  • I have noticed that often hives that are robbed are ones with week queens or no queen at all. It seems like the lack of pheromones can “allow” robbers to enter. Of course this isn’t the only reason robbing happens, but it seems like one of the big ones.

  • I’d like to describe my own robbing situation: I noticed bees flying behind and under the weaker hive, and up by the telescoping cover, to all appearances trying to find a way in. As I watched them I saw bees flying from/to the weak hive to/from the strong one. Based on what I knew of the hives, I assumed that the weak one was being robbed. This was confirmed when I checked the strong hive and found new frames drawn out with honey-filled cells during a dearth.

    How did I stop it? Closing the hives up and using robbing screens didn’t work, only feeding the strong hive stopped the robbing, almost instantaneously.

  • Not only are the bees still inside, the queen has laid eggs and there is now three frames with brood (about 8 inch diameter), mostly capped, and larvae surrounding them. I even saw fresh eggs. Still a long way to go, but its a start for a decimated hive. I did have to move it to the country, right next to a blooming alfalfa field. (I hope they like flowers).

  • I also had robbing going on at the front of the hive. It’s a frustrating sight to see—my stress level shot through the roof.

    Here near Eugene, Oregon I just don’t have the flower power we should have going on here. And my forestry neighbor recently had his neighboring hillside property herbicide sprayed. All the thistle that was blooming plus all the little extras – gone! dead! I was so disappointed.

    The robbing took a nasty turn, and since the two wild hives are so much bigger than my little hive, my girls are were fighting a un-winnable battle. I put a stop to it! (One of the hives has been living in a old growth tree for over 30 years; they are a huge hive! Impressive any way you think about it!)

    I put out as a peace offering a half gallon of sugar water mixture. I mix it 1 to 1. This has worked fabulously! No honeybee hive robbing. The half gallon is gone in about 40 mins. Watched it with my own eyes and videoed some of it – shocking!

    I also set out on the war path against the yellowjackets. Between the traps for them – finding and killing their hives in the ground – and smashing them – I have knocked down their activity. (The skunks will dig the hives up also.)

    Now as for the bald-faced hornets, I have not found their weakness yet. They take out my bee girls in flight. I have taken tracking them on foot as they fly away. Some people may think me crazy – I think I am determined.

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