How to recognize robbing bees and ways to stop them

What is robbing?

Robbing is a term used to describe honey bees that are invading another hive and stealing the stored honey. The robbing bees rip open capped cells, fill their honey stomachs, and ferry the goods back home. They will fight the resident bees to get to the stores and many bees may die in the process.

When does robbing occur?

Robbing can occur anytime during the year, but it is most evident in the late summer or early fall, especially during a nectar dearth. Robbing can often be seen in the early spring as well, most frequently before the first major honey flow.

Why does robbing occur?

Honey bees are compulsive hoarders. They will collect nectar or honey from any source they can find, and that includes a poorly guarded or weak hive. Personally, I think “looting” is a better description because, like human looters, they tend to prey on the weak and vulnerable, especially a hive with a problem.

Think of it like this: It is a hot August afternoon. It hasn’t rained in weeks. The flowers are long past their peak and the few that remain are crispy. A gang of bored workers with too much time and not enough to do is hanging out, looking for trouble. Suddenly, one of the gang picks up on a scent…sweet! It’s coming from a nearby hive where the beekeeper has spilled some syrup. A few scouts check it out and believe they can overpower the lethargic guard bees lounging in the heat. Within minutes the dancers post directions on CombBook and the siege is on.

How can I recognize robbing?

Sometimes a weak hive will suddenly come to life. You, a new beekeeper, are ecstatic because a hive you thought was dying is now thrumming with activity—bees are everywhere. You think the colony has finally turned itself around. But when you go back the next day, no one is home. The honey frames have been stripped clean, bees lie dead on the ground, and the small colony is decimated.

At other times, the signs are more subtle:

  • Fighting bees tumble and roll—sometimes on the landing board, sometimes in the air.

  • Dead bees lie 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 that are attracted to the dead bees as well as the honey.

  • 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 never carry 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 as the robbers rip open new cells.

  • 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.

What can I do to prevent robbing?

It is much more effective to anticipate robbing and take preventive measures than to try to stop it once it starts. Here are some strategies that may work—at least some of the time.

  • Reduce entrances at the first sign of a nectar dearth. Bees can successfully defend their hive if they have a large enough population and a small enough entrance.

  • Many beekeepers have observed that Italian bees rob more often than other subspecies. If you keep Italians, you should be more vigilant.

  • It appears that queenless hives are more vulnerable to robbing than queen-right hives. Make sure all your hives are queenright as robbing season approaches.

  • Entrance feeders seem to promote robbing more than other feeders, probably because the food source is so near the hive opening. Use some other type of feeder during nectar dearths.

  • Small or weak hives are particularly vulnerable. Consider combining such hives before a nectar dearth.

  • Commercial robbing screens are highly effective devices that allow the resident bees to get in and out while discouraging the robbers. These can be especially valuable for use on weaker hives that you do not want to combine.

What can I do to stop 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. Get the smoker going and set it next to the hive while you 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). Close up the hive completely for several days until the robbers give up. If necessary, be sure to provide feed, pollen, water, and ventilation for the confined colony.

  • 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 from 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 mask the hive odor and 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 your hives at will. This is not a good strategy for an inexperienced beekeeper.

Honey Bee Suite

This honey bee hive is being attacked by robbing bees. Here they are trying to find their way in just below the hive cover.
Robbing bees try to find their way into a have based on odor. Wherever the honey scent leaks out, the robbers try to get in. Robbing bees will often fight with the occupants of the hive. © Ken Rhodes.


  • Thanks for the informative post! I’ll be smiling about CombBook all day now!
    -Reggie, 2nd year beekeeper in Petaluma, California

  • I had this just last week. Italians robbing, or attempting to rob, my Carniolans. I was feeding them to be sure of enough winter stores for a southeastern Idaho winter. I removed the entrance feeder and put a vented cover on the main entrance, leaving only the small 3/4-inch top entrance open. This did the trick. Many of the little blond Italians perished in the incident. I concluded that my newly acquired (early summer) colony, which went queenless much of the time, was doing well enough that I don’t need to continue to feed them. The robbing stopped by the 2nd day and now life is back to normal. I learn a lot from these bees every day!

  • Rusty, I sure m having a hard time figuring out whether I m seeing robbing going on or a bloom of new workers.

    I seem to have a lot more activity at a hive that was a package I installed early April and see a lot of behaviors for robbing you describe. The only thing I do NOT see are dead bees or fighting going on. I see lots of bees carrying pollen landing and entering with all the other bees, but no fighting.

    At this point I have put on an entrance reducer with the smallest opening until I can figure out what is really happening.

    Does not seeing fighting/dead and/or pollen carrying bees returning and entering rule out robbing?

    • My guess it that it is not robbing, but a lot of bees taking orientation flights. About three weeks after package installation, your first bees would be born. Those bees would be nurse bees for a week or so, but as they get older they become foragers. As new foragers, they circle around the hive in ever expanding circles in order to learn their whereabouts. Without Google Maps, they have to learn the terrain the hard way. Robbing can happen in the spring, but it is not nearly so common as it is the fall. Lack of fighting doesn’t rule out robbing, especially if the hive is weak, but I think you are seeing normal spring activity.

  • Thanks Rusty, it does appear it was new foragers after further observation and checking on it yesterday afternoon.


  • I put up a robbing screen on the lower entrance and screened over the upper entrance. The robbers hover and crash into the screen and eventually give up. It was amazing how well it worked.

  • I have a problem, I am a first year beekeeper and I think my hive is being robbed, I have tried reducing the entrance, placing a wet sheet over the hive and placing a screen over the entrance. There is still fighting, I have also noticed that at any given time there are 5+ bees that are not able to fly and they are wiggling their abdomen. I have no idea what’s going on please help!

    • Stephanie,

      Are you talking about a new hive as in a few weeks old? Are you feeding them syrup or something that will attract robbers? Are you sure they are fighting? Are the bees not flying on their backs or on their feet? Are their abdomens up in the air? Just trying to get a clear picture . . .

      • Rusty, I got the nuc last July and all looks very healthy. I have not fed them, I left all of the honey for them and there was some left last month, with some un-capped honey and there is a lot of pollen going in. They look like they are fighting, they actually attack, sometimes two or more against one. They are just crawling around on the ground and are buzzing like they want to fly. Their abdomens are down and curled looking. I took pictures today of some of the dead. It looks like a couple of different types of bees and a drone.

        • Stephanie,

          That certainly sounds like robbing. Other bees probably caught the scent of the uncapped honey and are trying to get it. I wouldn’t worry about the bees on the ground. That’s pretty common and normal, although I don’t know exactly why it happens. As soon as the nectar flow starts, the bees will be busy with foraging and the robbing should stop. In the meantime, it sounds like you are doing everything right.

          • We reduced the opening to 1-2 bee size, but it has been in the 60-70’s here in Eastern WA and today I came home to a beard. We took off the reducer and they went in and there was no fighting. Ahhh I can sleep tonight! Thank you. 🙂

  • One of our hives was robbed absolutely dry and all of the pollen has been snatched, too! The queen is still there and there is a lot of capped brood. Should we pop the feeder back in there? If so, what ratio of sugar to water to ensure they can at least build some stores? Thanks!

  • Hello.

    I am a first year keeper too. And our winter in Oz was extremely cold and although my hive was very healthy and had a lot of capped frames prior to winter, my hive had died over the colder months. I went away on holidays for the winter and came back to a nonactive hive and when opened I only found 30 or so of my bees bundled in the very middle of the hive. There was still plenty of capped honey frames and no brood anywhere. I have taken out almost all of the frames with honey and cleaned up any that had signs of worms or anything other than healthy bee frames. (Found a colony of slugs in the bottom of the hive as an example.) I have left the hive down to one box with only very little honey inside. And immediately there was all this activity the next day (beginning of spring here) but I am positive it is only robbers.

    Is there any chance that a new hive will swarm or some of the robbers may stay and start a new colony? What is the best next steps for me to take? Do I just close it up and buy a new package? Since it’s spring could I possibly trap a new swarm in there?

    Please help.

    • Manni,

      A recently used hive make an excellent “bait hive.” If there are swarms in your area, you have a good chance that one will find your hive and move in. That said, many beekeepers increase the chances of it being found by adding a lure of some kind. I’m sure you can buy a commercial lure in Australia, or some people smear lemongrass oil on the landing board or put a few drops inside the hive.

      Whether you catch a swarm has a lot to do with how many colonies live in your immediate area, and it’s entirely possible you won’t catch one, in which case you might want to buy a new package.

      • To be sure, I haven’t raised bees in over 30 years. But I started a hive recently with lemon grass oil … worked perfectly!

    • Rusty,

      This is my first hive. I installed package on the 10th of April the next day I noticed bees flying out and grabbing other bees to ground killing them. This didn’t last too long and seems as if my hive won the battle. I do feed them sugar water for now. They empty the top feeder everyday. Not sure if that’s normal.

      • Don,

        Bees fighting at the entrance sounds normal, but bees grabbing each other in the air does not. Are you sure they weren’t wasps? If it stopped, I guess it’s okay, but it sounds a little strange.

  • Hello there. I have a question about robbing. This is my first year beekeeping and so far it’s been a bitter sweet experience. I started with 2 hives this year, one of my hives swarmed last week (I don’t think I gave them enough space) and then it was shortly after. But my other hive I think was being robbed as well the next day. There was a lot of activity going on outside of the hive and some fighting. I checked inside the other day and noticed there was no bees in the bottom chamber, yellow jackets were going in and out at the entrance as well… My bees seemed to be hanging out in the brood box above the main chamber, it looked like there was now only 2 frames of bees in the hive but they have 16 deep frames full of capped honey.

    They definitely don’t seem to be defending the hive entrance anymore. I blocked everything off hoping they will start defending again eventually. I’m not sure what type of bees mine are. They are grey to black so I was thinking they are carni. Not sure if this has anything to do with there small population now because this was a very active and seemingly strong hive or if they simply just been getting beat up by raiders.

    Any suggestions would be highly appreciated, thanks!

    • Nick,

      By the time the wasps are freely moving in and out of the hive, things are in bad shape. You did the right thing by blocking the entrance, but now you should check to see if the queen is alive. Sometimes the wasps will kill the queen, and then your hive is in trouble. Also, you want to protect all that honey or it will be stolen if the bees can’t defend.

      Two frames of bees going into winter doesn’t sound promising, regardless of the type of bee. Carnis keep smaller winter nests, but that is really small. Like I said, the first thing would be to look for your queen and see if there is any brood.

  • My goodness, your site is wonderfully helpful!

    I have a quick question. About how long (on average) does it usually take bees to get used to having a robbing screen on the hive? I put one of the Brushy Mt robbing screens on a hive about three days ago (early in the morning before the bees were out) and there is still a pile of bees behind the screen trying to get out, and very few coming and going through the small top entrance. We are nearly into fall down here in the deep south, but there is still some pollen coming in. I had two hives robbed out completely last year, so I’m a bit paranoid. 🙂

    Thank you!

    • Alice,

      I kept robbing screens on two small hives most of the summer and they still like to hang around behind the screen. They look like they’re stuck there, but the hives are functioning just fine so I don’t worry about it.

  • Rusty,
    Thank you so much for your quick reply! I just went ahead and put robbing screens on all of my hives and will not worry if they do not all seem to “get it”. Thank you so much for all you have put into your fantastic site, and for taking time to help others.


  • I am a first year beek in New Zealand where it is autumn. I have two new-ish langstroth hives, one box high, one with Italians and the other with carni’s. Both suffered from varroa, and after 3 oxalic acid vaporiser treatments failed to control them, bayvarol strips were placed in both hives. Shortly afterwards the carni hive was severely robbed. To control the robbing, I reduced the entrance down, first to 75mm, then 50mm, and finally 1 bee width as the robbing continued. I put a frame of uncapped honey into the carni hive as all stores had been robbed. Today is a sunny day, and with virtually no activity outside the robbed hive, a quick check inside confirmed my fears. The uncapped honey is gone, many dead bees lay on the bottom board, and the remaining live bees are moving very slowly. Is there anything I can do to halt the collapse of this hive? Appreciate your advise.

    • Steve,

      The smell of the uncapped honey probably drew the robbers back. I doubt the colony is worth saving, but if it has a queen and there are enough bees to keep themselves warm, you can try. Remember though, they have zero food going into winter. Here’s a post you might want to read. It was very popular with your fellow beekeepers down in NZ: Should you try to save a failing colony?

    • By the way, Steve. Protect your other colony from robbing. You don’t know if it was your bees or other bees that did the robbing, but you don’t want a repeat. I think beekeepers underestimate how often it happens.

  • Rusty,

    I have not taken that final step to start keeping bees, I have no fear of them, in fact tend to play with the wild ones visiting my garden. I do not interfere with their gathering, but will offer my hand as a resting place. My friends think I am nuts, but it has been my experience that unless I agitate them, they are quite willing to take a break and let me observe them up close. My fear is that I will do something negligent out of ignorance that will cause their demise. It is all a new language to me, and I fear my new pets could come down with a condition that if I knew what I was doing could be prevented or cured if caught early enough. My other fear is that I live in southern Illinois and am smack in the middle of farm country, I would hate to bring an animal into my life just to have it poisoned by my neighbors. Am I being too cautious, or my fears really a detriment to having a few hives.

    Thank you so much for your time.


    • Penny,

      You should go ahead and try it. You can never be totally prepared for the things that will happen. Even after decades of experience, beekeepers are often surprised by things that go right or wrong, but the trip is well worth the effort.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I am a beginner beekeeper in NZ and appreciate all the information, advice and time you give to this site. For me it is invaluable to read differing opinions and solutions.

    Just thought I would share my experience of robbing. Fortunately I was present when one of my hives came under attack. I had just fed the hive and was sure I hadn’t spilt any sugar solution. The more I watched the worst it got with an obvious line of flight of robber bees flying in from a neighboring apiary. I had read in “Practical Beekeeping in NZ’ to use a garden sprinkler to simulate rain so that is what I did. Set up the sprinkler to rain down over the hive Result – my bees went into their hive, the robbers left and the water washed away any sugar I may have spilt. Once things had settled down I turned the sprinkler off, reduced the hive entrance and kept a close eye on the hive. The robbers came back the following day so I turned the sprinkler on again and left it on for several hours. Fortunately they didn’t come back after the 2nd day but now I have experienced robbing I will certainly be more careful with my feeding. This event was obviously caused by me and could have devastated my hive had I not lingered to watch and enjoy my bees.

    • Kiwi,

      You were lucky to catch them in the act. By seeing it, you understand it, and you will be ready for the little mongrels in the future. Good work.

    • Hi,

      I was wondering if a sprinkler would affect the hive. I’ve only had the hive for a few weeks.

      I go up and smell the sweet floriferous honey. I even breathe on the opening. I put my ear to the hive and hear the buzzing. Even my two dogs went up and sniffed. WOW !!!

      Now, someday I will suit up and check, but I did read that the queen rules.


  • Rusty- This past Sunday I went to check my hive and there was robbing going on(dead bees, fighting, etc.). I threw a wet beach towel over my hive and reduced the size of the entrance. The attackers kept it up and I made a screen and put it over my entrance. The attack continued on through Monday. Today I notice that my foragers are going out, but they have no pollen when they come back. Is this significant? I still have bees trying to get into my hive, but not nearly as many.

    • Andy,

      I don’t think the lack of pollen means anything. They bring in what they need the most. Brood nests are shrinking this time of year so they may be collecting less pollen. Keep on the robbers though. They may start up again.

  • So I noticed this morning I have a robbery in progress! I went over to check and see how things were looking (I went into the hive yesterday) and noticed bees rolling around on the landing board, attacking each other. Bees were also clustered around the edges of the telescoping top. Most interestingly, I noticed two instances where a workers physically grabbed another bee and flew off with it across the yard where I lost sight (is there a bee murder site somewhere out there?). When I lifted off the telescoping top to expose my screened inner cover it looked like a war zone. Must’ve been a hundred bees all there fighting each other (on top of the screen; not in the hive) and several dozen bodies. I immediately got my gear and started smoking the hive to confuse, well, everyone; I put in my entrance reducer, taking the front entrance down to about 1.5″, and adjusted the telescoping cover so the vents were smaller and in the rear of the hive (although if they get in they still can’t get through the screen). I also think I’m going to step out to the woodshop and make a robber screen as featured in one of your other robbing posts.

    I guess my question is, how long do I leave the countermeasures in place? Will the robbers keep returning, or when do I open up the entrance? Frankly, I’m tempted to leave it in for a while because I’m fighting off a heavy varroa infestation right now (lost between 1/3-1/2 my colony I think) and it’s weak overall. Any other suggestions would be welcomed!

    • Stosh,

      I don’t want to go too deeply into it at the moment because I’m in the midst of preparing a post on the use of robbing screens. Long story short, I now leave them on some hives during the entire season. Really, there is no reason not too. And as you can see, the screened inner cover is much safer than propping the lid, which is why I never prop lids. In fact, I also close off my upper entrances as soon as the dearth begins.

      For now, keep the entrance small, keep the top screened, and work on that robbing screen. Opening a hive often starts a robbing frenzy because we often inadvertently break honey cells and the smell floats out of the hive and alerts everyone for miles around. It’s normal; you just have to be ready for it.

      • Robber screen in place! We’ll see how it goes…. bodies everywhere and fighting still going on outside the hive. Just wish I could get them to wear uniforms so I’d know if I’m winning or losing!

      • May I ask how to completely stop a robbery, or how long it goes on? I’ve closed up the whole hive except for a 1.5″ entrance, put up a robber screen (which I think is keeping the robbing bees from going in), but 4 days into it, it’s still looking like a war zone. Got home early enough today to check on the hive before dark and there are still masses of bees fighting and dying on the platform the hive sits on and on the landing board (outside the robber screen though). How do I break this up? Otherwise I’m just going to eventually run out of workers. Even though it’s in the low 90s, should I go ahead and completely seal the hive until the weekend? Of course, that will mean the death of all my workers stuck outside too. 🙁 Options appreciated.

        • Stosh,

          Robbing is really hard to stop. You can try throwing a wet blanket over the hive, which holds most of the scent in. You can try locking it down at night and moving it somewhere else. I just use robbing screens, but I put them on before it starts, which is a big help. You could try put out an open feeder away from your hives as a diversion. I don’t know an easy method.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I got the recommended robbing screens on last night with one slide window open on each, upper right of the screen. Massive confusion with the girls this morning, coming back with pollen and bumping into the bottom of the screen. Hopefully, they’ll sort it out soon. I’m only seeing one of the “drone robbers” bumping into the bottom of the screen this morning. I’ll send a pic.

  • First year beekeeper here. I did my first harvest two days ago and unknowingly set the harvested super in front of the hive. When I told my mentor what I’d done, he said I most likely created robber bees because once they get the taste of honey outside the hive, they become relentless in their pursuit of it and will possibly invade my other hive. I’ve been reading all the suggestions so far but wondering if there is anything in particular I can do to cause them to not become robbers. I’m already feeding them 2-1 sugar water inside the hive. The hive just swarmed about two weeks ago and the new queen hasn’t really gotten established yet. The hive is very strong with low mite count and no hive beetles. Thanks

    • Charlie,

      That’s the opposite question I usually get. I think the best you can do is protect your other hive from potential robbing by reducing their entrance and using a robbing screen.

  • Hi Rusty, interesting reading all robbing Q&A here. I am also in NZ and observed robbing of our weak hive building up in front if my eyes. I put a screening and amazingly they just shifted to the stronger hive next door. As they were already in big numbers it looked overwhelming. Put robbing screening that one, tried sprinkler (short deterrence) and wet.

    Last night we closed off both hives and with an open mesh bottom and a Warre style quilt/roof that should be fine.
    Our theory was that any bees outside the hive in the morning would be robbers. BUT in between arriving bees I saw a couple with pollen.

    This leads me to question: do some bees overnight elsewhere as they may have misjudged their journey?

    They are all trying to get in, find a way, would our bees don’t also try tongued acway in? How can I distinguish any homecoming bees from robbers this early morning?

    Thx, Ellen

    • Ellen,

      You are correct that robbers do not carry pollen. Other than that, their flight behavior is noticeably different. Still, you may have to just sacrifice any of your bees that stayed out overnight. Most will find their way in, but some will not.

  • My hive is being actively robbed for the past week or 2 and I have been uable to stop it. I’ve tried the wet sheet approach and also purchesed the suggested robbing screen to no avail. I’ve been skeptical about opening up the hive to inspect for the queen as I’m nervous it will only attract more robbers. HELP! I really want to save my hive and don’t know what more I can do.

    • Bonnie,

      Have you reduced the entrance to the smallest opening under the robbing screen? Do you have just one door of the robbing screen open? Or only partly open? Are you switching the opening every couple of days?

      And tell me what you are seeing. Bees are going in and out of the robbing screen freely? Do you see fighting? How have you decided they are robbers and not your own bees?

      You are correct not to open the hive, although if robbers are coming and going freely through the robbing screen, it may mean there is no one inside left to defend the hive. A hive can easily be wiped out in two weeks.

      • Hi Rusty, I completey closed off the hive for 24 hours which seemed to help. However as soon as I opened it the robbers were back and the fighting ensued once again. I will try switching the open entrances as you noted to see if that helps. I’m losing lots of bees and it’s not clear if there is much of the hive left at this point. Very stressful and sad scenario.

        • Bonnie,

          Make a tent over the hive opening with a piece of plywood or a piece of canvas or towel. Make sure the front of the hive is in deep shade with small openings at either side for your bees. When bees are chasing me, I run into a shady place and that usually stops them in their tracks. It’s worth a try. Your own bees will soon fan their sisters in.

  • Hi Rusty,

    My hive is being actively robbed now for the past week or 2. I’ve taken several measures to quell the activity including using a wet sheet and installing a robbing screen to no avail. I’m losing hundreds of bees and I’m worried I will lose the hive altogether. I’m going to close it off completely for the next couple of days to see if that helps. Is it ok to inspect the hive to confirm the presence of the queen while the robbing behavior is still going on or will this attract more robbers? Would it work to place feed somewhere else in my garden to draw the robbers away from my hive? SOS!!!


    • Bonnie,

      Checking for the queen with robbing going on is not a good idea. Nor do I like the idea of putting a feeder outside. The feeder could draw bees from a mile away and only make the problem worse.

  • Around 10 am today I passed by my apiary and saw an unusual amount of frenzied activity at the entrance of a small hive. I don’t normally keep anti-robbing screens on in winter; just cover the reduced entrances with a mouse guard. It took a bit for the realization to sink in that this was classic robbing. Bees were cruising the hive exterior, sniffing at the joints between the boxes and trying to get in through the screened-over slot for the mite sampling board, too. Got a piece of #8 mesh, pulled off the mouse guard and stapled the small mesh over the entrance. About an hour later, all activity had subsided. But, it was picking up on most of my other 10 hives – one large one was getting completely mobbed at the entrance. Got all the anti-robbing screens out and put them on all hives. Threw some flour on mobs of bees at two hive entrances to help see where they were going. Looked to me that they were all heading off in the same direction. Temps were around 50 and no rain. I’m thinking there’s a starving colony out there that took advantage of the mild conditions today to go shopping.

    I’ve never previously seen robbing like this in the winter. Any experience with this on your part?

    • Cal,

      I don’t recall seeing winter robbing, although with this warm weather, I’m not surprised. In recent years, I’ve kept robbing screens on from fall till spring, although my hives each have a small unguarded opening at the top. In winter, though, the top entrance is better guarded than the lower entrance because that’s where the heat is.

      I have seen a lot of robbing in early spring, and what we are having now is feels very similar. If bees are out, they will find food wherever they can. It sounds like you are doing the right things.

  • I hope I word this to where it is understandable. We lost a swarm last summer, and we had a hive go AWOL during the winter. We set two empty hives with frames out to prepare for new nucs. Now there are bees all over both boxes. We watched them until almost dark last night, and assumed (you know what they say about that word!) they were staying since it was so late. First thing this morning, the boxes were empty. 30 minutes later, bees started showing back up. My question is, are they looking for a new home, or are they robbing what little is on the frames? How can I tell? TIA.

    • Jennifer,

      First, a colony won’t abscond in the winter, so I suspect it died of varroa/deformed wing virus. See “Absconding bees or death by varroa?

      From your description, it sounds like robbing bees are cleaning up those used frames. When scout bees are looking for a new home, a few bees will spend a lot of time examining a potential home, but not a whole herd. Once the swarm decides on a home, they all move in at once and they will stay put.

      A swarm of bees could still move in, but the ones you are seeing now sound like robbers.

    • Having read Thomas Seeleys “Honey Bee Democracy” the scouting seems to be a very gentle inspection of first one, and if that scout bee can convince others, then more and more. They measure the inside and check it out and it sounds like there’s no frantic behaviours even if 50 bees check it out within the hour.

      Sounds like you may have robbers.

      On that note I heard the other day that if there’s heaps you close the entrance for two days and then they are yours – but the’d need a brood frame and nurse bees and some stores – and it’s a bit naughty.

  • I am in the process of building two hives as I am picking up my first nucleus hives next Saturday. I had one box built with the roof on it last night. Over a night I left a brand new Langstroth frame that is supposed to be plastic foundation coated in a wax that makes the bees receptive. When I came to my back porch this morning there were anywhere from 50+ bees all around the box going in and out of the hive and buzzing all around. It is spring time here so I’m wondering if these are scout bees looking for a new home for a swarm, or is there something worth robbing off of this brand new foundation?

    • Brandon,

      It could be scouts. I wouldn’t be surprised if a swarm moves in today. Put in more frames and wait.

      • Rusty,

        Thanks for the quick response. Unfortunately a big storm has rolled in and all activity has ceased. If in fact it is scouts looking for a new home, what do I do about the location? I don’t want the hive on my back porch, as I have two acres behind the house where I intend to keep my hives. Is it better to leave them in place now and try to attract the swarm and move it later? Or if I move the hive 150 feet or so now while it’s raining would they be able to locate it without me missing out on the possibility of local bees?


        • Brandon,

          Hmm. It’s hard to say. If you don’t want bees on your porch, you should probably just go ahead and move the hives now. Usually when you see a lot of scouts, say 30 or 40, the swarm moves in within a few hours or the next day. So if they didn’t, maybe it was a false alarm.

          The alternative is waiting until after the storm and see what happens. If they do move in, then you have the hassle of moving a hive a short distance.

  • Rusty–My neighbor is a beekeeper, and periodically a few of his bees have been hanging around my house for years without causing any problems. Now large numbers of them are attempting to invade the vent to my kitchen fan. Running the fan does only a little to discourage them. At times they form small clusters around the vent opening, and I have repeatedly sprayed them with a jet of water, which discourages them temporarily, but soon they are back. The vent flap closes automatically when the fan is not running, but the invaders pile up around the edges of the vent flap and eventuallly manage to force it open a little. I would really like to discourage them! Any suggestions?

    • Sharon,

      That is really odd. The only time I’ve seen honey bees around the vent to my kitchen fan was when I was cooking barbecue sauce with honey. They arrived in droves. But as soon as I stopped cooking, they left. I don’t imagine you are cooking continuously, so it’s hard to say. It is possible they are building a nest up there? Is there room for a nest?

  • Hey guys, great site. I’ve got a package of bees that I installed late April. The queen has been laying like crazy and the hive has exploded. Yesterday I noticed a lot of strange looking bees trying to get into the hive and fighting on the doorstep. My bees are bringing back a lot of pollen this week but their may be a shortage of pollen. Canola is in bloom in the fields all around my house but I’m new to this so I don’t really know when the honey flows are supposed to be around here (southern Alberta). I’ve reduced the entrance and I think the colony is strong enough to defend itself, I just didn’t expect robbing this time of year.

  • Rusty, your site is a fantastic resource! Thank you.

    Should I close hive completely for 48 hours and top feed my bees after a robber bee attack?

    I noticed robbing yesterday afternoon. Immediately switched entry reducer from medium to smallest opening. Robbers still seen entering the hive with little to no opposition. I’d seen several skirmishes the last couple days but it looked like my guards were handling invaders. Most bees entering carried pollen. Now full onslaught. I draped a wet towel over front of hive. It confused most of the 100+ robbers erratically flying around the front. Calmer hive just before dark, I removed the hive top to inspect damage. The nectar deposits in two frames that were “in progress” two days ago in my top box were gone. Hundreds of abnormally noisy bees frantically milling about as if searching for food. No fighting. I presumed robbers had left for the night. Looking down through top box frames (wasn’t going to further disturb hive) the bottom brood box was still packed with bees. Put top back on.
    This morning 7am robbers returned so I closed hive entrance completely. I think we are starting our summer dearth in northern Virginia.

    Should I supplement now using my top feeder since I still have a large population? Will the hive assign enough new guard bees to protect the 1 1/2” entry hole if I open it back up?

    • Kurt,

      It’s hard for me to say what will work and what won’t. I think robbing is more of a “try it and see” situation. Although people are told to reduce the entrance to the smallest opening, what that actually does is tell the robbers exactly where the opening is. The scent coming out of the hole tells the robbers right where to go. A small entrance often works because the bees can defend it, but once robbing starts I think the small entrance doesn’t do much good. I much prefer to use a robbing screen which places the alternative entrance away from the direct source of the smell.

      Be careful of supplemental feeding because that can cause robbing as well. You can leave the hive locked down for a couple days, but make sure the bees have adequate water and ventilation. Then slowly open things back up. Some people like to prop a board or piece of sheetrock at an angle over the front of the hive which confuses the robbers.

    • Hello from a fellow northern Virginia-er (I’m in Purcellville), where honeybee robbing seems to be a popular local sport! I definitely don’t have Rusty’s expertise and experience, but I went through a robbing situation here last Fall which lasted over a week before the very determined robbers gave up and I was trying anything I could find to thwart them. I did the draping with a sheet (but pulled the bottom board for ventilation), closing the entrance, and even tried decoy feeders scattered about (plates with honey) but I think what really worked in the end was the robber screen. Quick and cheap to make it – I put a rough one together in about 15 minutes. While the robbers never actually made it far into the hive (I think because they were able to guard the reduced entrance more effectively), the lengthy attack decimated my numbers – the ground in front of the hive was paved with bee corpses, it looked like a little insectoid WW1 battlefield, and I guessed I’d lost almost a third of the colony – and the hive wasn’t able to effectively recover and survive that brutal arctic snap we had last December (and which the Cooperative Extension is now reporting northern VA lost 60% of its hives from). Good luck!

  • Stosh

    Thanks for responding to my robber bee post. I did build a robber screen right after my previous post and some research. It seemed to slow the robbing quite a bit. I closed the hive and fed my hungry bees 4 cups of syrup (1:1) which they gobbled up in one night. I wonder if that seems reasonable? I have two deep hive boxes which are still pretty full of bees so I’m hopeful I may have caught the robbing early. Many foragers bringing in pollen yesterday. As a second time beekeeper, I am reluctant to take off my top box to inspect what is left in the bottom box while the threat of robbing exists.

    In addition to a few dozen flying robbers searching for an entry, I still have a large congregation of bees covering about 1/3 of the outside front of the robber screen. They overnighted there the last two nights. Are these my bees which can’t/don’t care to find their way back in or robbers hoping they’ll have better luck tomorrow? These overnighters do not appear to be guard bees as they don’t greet or prevent other bees from entering the new entrances on top of the robber screen. And very little fighting among them and my bees coming in with pollen ignore them. They do greet each other so I’m confused what I’m seeing. Any advice is appreciated!

  • IF the robbing hive is one of your own and identifiable… I remove the hive being robbed to another property and put the robbing hive in its place. If that hive continues to be a problem for the others (most likely) I would requeen it with a Carniolan queen.

    Putting entrance restricting cleats will be necessary and you should consider reducing the hive entrances on all the others as well. With normal honey flow diminishing the allure of raiding increases during the summer.

    But be careful. If the temperature has turned hot, narrowing the entrance impairs ventilation and the wet bed sheet might be another answer.

    STOP Using Boardman entrance feeders and put in an interior feeder if needed.

    All in all, If there is only one colony doing the robbing and one being robbed (and the robbed hive is still strong) it is sorted out by swapping places. This confuses them and generally works. I will replace the robbing hives queen if this continues – weakening it for weeks as well. End of problem.

    If the robbed colony has been beaten up too badly, I close it up and move it at least 3 miles away.

  • Rusty will probably have better advice on this, but I know last year when it was getting hot, I had large chunks of my hive “bearding” on the front and sides to cool off. Does it look like that’s what they’re doing? I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I felt bed about them getting so hot (and also maybe being less productive) so I used some wires, scrap wood and an old sheet to rig a sunshade over the hive that screens it during the hottest part of the day. Dunno if that’s recommended or not…

      • LOL love the “They want to drink beer, check Facebook, and gossip about the prom dress that made Henrietta look like a hooker.”

        And yes, I’ve been told I spoil my bees by putting up a sunshade in summer. But I figure if they’re out lazing about on the front porch, they’re not being as productive! 😉

  • Rusty, Stosh and Herbert

    Thank you all for the insight and spot-on advice. The robbing screen has made all the difference in the world. It took a couple days but things are much calmer/normal now. I’m sure you are right about the bearding on the front screen since there’s only an occasional fight. I try to observe my hive daily and be prepared for all the potential problems (mites, SHB) but this was a visual I hope I won’t soon see again.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I have 2 hives that were both being robbed yesterday. I believe I caught it within the first couple of hours of it happening. I reduced the front bottom entrance, and plugged inner cover notches. These are Langstroth hives with a slatted rack above a screened bottom board.
    The day before this, I had added new honey supers with un-drawn foundation that I (carefully) sprayed with sugar water mixed with some Pro Health to draw them onto the frames. I think this may be what prompted the robbing (first time I’ve seen it do that) – even though there is at least some nectar flow going right now.

    It appeared that the attack was mainly that front entrance as the inner cover entrance appeared normal.

    These colonies appear to be strong, and queenright, as they have filled at least 2 supers each, and numbers are good.

    During the robbing, I’m sure they got hot when I plugged them up (daytime temps in the 90s), and easily 1000 of the bees ended up on the outside of the hive hanging out under the screened bottom board (they weren’t hanging out there previously). I unplugged all the entrances last night, and when checking this morning, the bees are still calmly hanging out under the screen (overnight/morning low temp was 60 degrees). Any thoughts on why they’re still hanging out there? Is this and adverse reaction, or something the robbing ‘forced’ them to discover and they figured out they kind of like it?

    Thanks in advance for any consideration.

    Russ W

  • Rusty,

    Thanks for the response. They did eventually all go back in to the hive, I just never saw them beard (this year anyway), and wasn’t sure of the impact the robbing may have had.

    It’s a different topic, but where I’m at (western slop of Colorado), there’s plenty of weeds, wildflowers, irrigated plants that bees forage on (including alfalfa). Nectar does slow for just a bit this time of year, but we still have a late summer/early fall flow that will occur. Last year I had colonies filling supers in less than 2 weeks in early September. I check honey storage for each colony to make sure they’re at good weight/stores for the winter. They’re still filling the deeps with pollen and honey.

    Thanks for all the input and great info on your site.

    Russ W

  • Bonjour

    Je suis français. Je ne parle pas anglais, je vais donc utilisé le traducteur automatique.
    Mes ruches se trouvent à 60 kilomètres de Paris.

    J’ai 13 ruches. Depuis le mois de mai j’ai beaucoup de pillage. A la dernière visite il n’y avait plus de réserve de miel. Toutes mes ruches sont pillées par les ruches d’un apiculteur qui se situe à 200 mètres de chez moi. J’ai tout essayé mais rien n’empêche le pillage. J’ai trouvé sur internet le système robber screen. Ce système n’est pas connu en France. J”en ai posé un sur chaque ruche mais 3 jours après ça ne fonctionne pas. Des abeilles restent bloquées à l’intérieur de la ruche et quand certaines arrivent à sortir, elles ne savent pas rentrer dans la ruche. Il y a beaucoup d’abeilles mortes avec du pollen aux pattes au pied de leur ruche.

    J’ai peur de perdre toutes mes ruches. Je suis inquiet pour mes abeilles.

    J’ai besoin de vos conseils.

    Je vous remercie.


  • Hello

    I am French. I do not speak English, so I will use the automatic translator.

    My hives are in the department of Essonne 60 kilometers from Paris.

    I have 13 hives. Since the month of May I have a lot of looting. At the last visit there was no more reserve of honey. All my hives are looted by the hives of a beekeeper who is 200 meters from my home. I tried everything but nothing prevents the looting. I found on the internet the robber screen system. This system is not known in France. I put one on each hive but 3 days after that does not work. Bees are stuck inside the hive and when some get out, they do not know how to get into the hive. There are many dead bees with pollen on their legs at the foot of their hive.

    I’m afraid of losing all my hives. I am worried about my bees.

    I need your advice.

    Thank you.


  • I saw lots of noisy activity yesterday, four days after treating for mites with Mite Away Quick Strips. It didn’t look like there was any fighting on the landing board, though, and bees continued to bring in pollen. I wondered whether bees would continue to bring in pollen if the hive were being invaded. Do you think this is a hopeful sign that an attack was not taking place? Thank you.

    • Mary,

      I don’t think they are related. The bees out collecting pollen wouldn’t know an attack was going on if they left beforehand.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I have 3 hives of bees, and I noticed one of them being robbed on Sat, Sept 22. I tried several things and finally after 3 days I sealed the hive closed. There is still a lot activity around the hive. What else can I do to help the situation? This hive is very weak due to mites and I treated it about a month ago.

    Also the hive I started this spring was doing ok except for mites. I treated it about 2 weeks ago. Yesterday I noticed there was very little activity, so I opened it up this morning and there are no bees at all in it! There is still some honey and pollen. The yellow jackets were going in and out so I sealed up the hive. What do I need to do with it?

    I would appreciate any advice you have. Thanks for a great site and information.


    • Linda,

      If the hive is very weak, it will be hard to stop the robbing yellowjackets. It sounds like the mite population got ahead of you. Remember, it’s the viruses the mites carry that kills the colony. So if most of your bees have the viruses before you kill the mites, they will still have them after you kill the mites. New virus-free bees are necessary to replace the old ones. That is why you have to treat for mites early and not wait until you see a problem.

  • Hi, I am a first year beekeeper and I am very upset. I believe that my hive has been robbed of most of its honey stores. I have reduced the entrance to the smallest and stuffed grass in the entrance. If I can get the robbing to stop, how do I help my bees survive the winter with inadequate stores of honey? I am heartbroken, I was feeling so proud up until this point ?

    • Hi Cathleen –

      Last year I was where you are now. A couple of questions: where are you located – real winter area, or somewhere temperate? And, even thought the honey stores are gone, how are your colony numbers? I had a bad case of varroa followed by a solid week of robbing I just couldn’t stop, and while they didn’t get my honey stores, I had a lot of dead bees completely carpeting the ground in front of the hive from both the mites and the battle. The result was even though they had stores and I was feeding, they didn’t have the mass to stay warm and froze to death during a week-long sub-arctic snap we had here in Virginia, even though I tried to insulate them with straw bales around the hive (and that was my first year as a beekeeper too, so I understand the heartbreak). Not trying to discourage you, but it was something I didn’t expect. No matter what happens, don’t give up! I took what I learned, got a new nuc this year and have a very strong colony going into winter.

      • Hi Stosh,

        Thanks for you reply! My situation sounds very much like the one you described, I treated for varroa and then shortly after experienced robbing. Although the stored honey has been depleted, I have about 6 frames of bees. Not sure if that’s enough to get them through the winter, even if I feed all winter long. I hope so. I live in NJ where we experience below freezing cold snaps occasionally. I’m researching the best way to insulate my hive and feeding 2:1 syrup for now. Any further advice is welcome, I am disappointed that I somehow messed things up, I was trying really hard to go into winter strong. Thank you, once again!

        • Yah, I made a series of newbie screw-ups (of course I’m STILL a newbie), and was most upset because I had a really strong queen and a good colony. But then I didn’t test for varroa often enough, and in about 7 weeks went from 2 mites to I think 14 in the sugar shake, and by the time I got it under control had massive shriveled wing syndrome going on and bees on the ground everywhere, followed by the week-long robbing attempt. I guestimated by the time winter came around I was down to around 10K bees (from an estimated 50K in August), and when that sub-arctic snap came through, well, mine was one of the 60% colony casualties in northern VA.

          For feeding this year I was doing 2:1 syrup, but it’s gotten cold enough at night it was solidifying in the jar, so I just started making sugar blocks for the first time (I like experimenting with new stuff) – 1 cup of water boiled up with 1 lb of sugar. Right at the end as it’s starting to cool I mix in some Honey B Healthy and about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, then pour it into small foil loaf pan molds to cool and harden into about 1.5″ think loaves. As it’s cooling I slip in strips of pollen patty so they’re embedded in the center. Made one for a test, laid it on top of the frames (after building a small shim to raise up the inner cover) and they completely covered it in minutes, and it took them about 5-6 days to eat it all down. So I think for winter, I can fit about 6 sugar blocks in the hive, and I’ll check on the need to replace them around every 4-5 weeks (whenever it warms up enough). I also replaced my solid bottom board with one I drilled 1/4″ holes in every few inches, to allow air to circulate without letting wind gusts in (which is also why I have straw bales around the hive – I was told wind and wet are what usually get them).

          There are all kind of neat things out there I wish I knew when I was starting. I didn’t even know what a robber screen was when I began, but as soon as I started getting robbed I built and installed one, and now it’s on year-round. I’ve also experimented with building a moisture quilt box, and learned pieces of unscented Swiffer pads on tops of the frames make GREAT small hive beetle traps you only need to change out every 2-3 months. I’m also thinking of getting a USB boroscope and putting some holes in the top and side of the hive with dowel plugs I can remove and slip in the camera and see how they’re doing vice opening up the top. Eventually I’d like to get a live webcam out there. So many toys to build and play with, so little time! 🙂

          No matter how your winter goes, don’t give up. Even if you lose them (as I did), I got a new nuc this year, took my lessons learned to heart and have a strong colony which I hope will make it through (even though I’m sure I have more newbie mistakes to make)!

  • Hi from Queensland, Australia. Great article! I am suspicious of a bee man that has moved close to 80 two storey hives recently to my parents property in mid autumn. He does this every autumn. There is very little flowering here so is this a sneaky trick to rob all the other hives in the area. I know he has not followed local council regulations by placing the hives within 100m of houses and livestock so I know he is dodgy. I do not see many bees around and last year there were lots of pollenless bees walking around on the ground. Any thoughts?

    A few years ago a man was murdered for his honey stores so simple hive robbing would seem a more practical way to steal honey and even better – send in the bees to do do it.

    • Lou,

      It’s a complex problem: how close can someone move dozens of colonies to other colonies? There is a big uproar over this question going on in California right now, but I don’t know that anyone has a good answer. If beekeepers don’t adequately feed bees in times of shortage, they will certainly take food from wherever they can find it.

  • I believe my feeder is drawing robbers. I had a 2-deep hive, quite strong, full of bees, and I made a split about 10 days ago. I installed a locally raised new queen for the queenless half, and was feeding them 1:1 on the advice of the seller. I use an internal feeder, and they seemed to be going through a lot (note, there was a medium with about half nectar and half capped honey, and I split those frames between the old and new hives, so it’s not like they had nothing else to eat). As I topped up the 3rd quart or so, in as many days, it occurred to me there were an awful lot of “foraging” bees for such a new split. Then I realized the bees that wandered into the feeder before I closed up typically weren’t walking back down into the hive, like I saw during winter feeding, but flying away. Argh!

    So I took the feeder away, and reduced the entrances. After 2 days I put it back on after dark, hoping the robbers had time to forget about it. Today there’s a fair number of flying bees again. No serious fighting, just some pushiness at the entrances. Argh. . .

    If I put a wet sheet or towel over the hive, how do I keep from covering up the entrances? Is it OK that the material hangs near the entrances (or is that the point), on the assumption that any residents that want to fly out can walk to the edge before taking off? Is this going to disrupt the orientation flights that my young-ish bees will be wanting to take soon?

    I also have a nuc arriving shortly, and planned to top feed them as well. Should I do the wet sheet treatment right off the bat?

    • Gap,

      I’m not convinced it’s robbing, being the time of year it is. But maybe so. I would reserve the wet-towel treatment for over-the-top hoards of fall foraging robbers. For now, use your entrance reducer set on the smaller setting until you are into a nectar flow. A quart of syrup/day is such a small amount, I wouldn’t be concerned.

      • Got it, I’ll leave the setup as is. But I think I’ll warn my across-the-street neighbor that his bees may be making sugar syrup rather than honey 🙂

        BTW, as I went frame by frame thru the queen-less split, prepping for the new queen, I got to see 4 baby bees emerge. I’ve got about 9 minutes of terrible video of one who never got all the way out before I gave up watching. About minute 7, the cap popped off a few cells over, and that one was out in a minute and a half. Pretty amazing!

  • Gap,

    Do you have robber screens in place? I’m told they’re usually not needed this time of year, but better safe (and some inconveniencing for your bees) than sorry. You can buy them, or if you have some basic tools at home they’re really easy to make. I’ve found them to be very effective ever since me first colony got decimated by robbers in its first year.

    And yeah, I put the sheet over the hive. Had to leave it there for over a week too, but in my case I was too late recognizing what was happening. I’m sure I lost some bees because of the confusion the sheet caused, but saw plenty more workers learning to dive under the sheet to get back in.

    • Lost track of where I asked this question. . .

      No, I was not using robber screens. Nor did I attempt the wet towel approach. I had to leave town for about a week for some family business, and it really wasn’t practical to manage this situation more closely.

      Sadly, by the time we came home, the new queen appears to have absconded with most of the bees. I invited a local inspector out a few days later, and he pointed to evidence of robbing in the nearly empty hive. Plus there were a couple clumps of hive beetle larvae.

      So, into the freezer with all the frames, and now I have lots of drawn out comb for future hive manipulations (a question asked elsewhere, too).

  • Hi there,

    I just noticed robbers after a new split and trying, but not succeeding getting into the mother hive of the split.

    We just harvested a couple of frames, so that is what drew them in. Mother hive has a new queen and split just has/had three queen cups last I looked. I reduced the entrance and closed up the back, settled the top down tight on all of three of my hives. I put out a dummy hive with the newly emptied frames that we had just taken the honey out of a couple of days ago. I took those frames over to the battle ground and wafted it around a bit, then put them into the dummy hive. We had to leave, so I was hoping that the attack on the hives would slow down at least so they would have a fighting chance.

    Came back and all robber activity is now focused on the dummy hive which is luring them away from the other hives. I now know to reduce all entrances before harvesting. I am thinking I will leave all alone for a bit. There are just a few robbers looking for entrance to the weakest hive, one without queen yet, but everything else looks to be under control. I’m dying to go look, but do not dare open anything up for a few days. Hoping the queen cells were not messed with in the new split. Will be on pins and needles waiting to see what happened in there.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thank you so much for all of this information. In autumn (fall) here in Australia I had a hive robbed from leatherjackets and other bees was awful 🙁 I lost that hive. Now we are almost at the end of winter just about spring time.

    I noticed yesterday one of my hives has more activity no fighting I opened the lid to find many many bees eating the sugar block (my bees hadn’t eaten it haven’t needed it). The bees are making heaps of loud buzzing more than normal. It doesn’t look like robbing but these bees I checked are dark and they were still up there feeding like crazy, so if robbing bees, they didn’t leave yesterday before dark.

    I watched the entrance for a while yesterday many bees were carrying pollen in but a lot were not. One bee I saw had a clump of sugar, thought she may have been carrying sugar out but then saw her fly off with it. Not sure what to do, have the entrance to about 4 bee width should I reduce to 2 bee width?

    I put over a wet towel last night, but not sure this will work as the robbers may have been in there still?
    Today looking with the towel lot of bees over it and out the front all confused.

    Not sure what’s going on.

    Thanks Leanne

    • Leanne,

      It’s hard to say what is going on. Robbing bees do not spend the night, although they will stay late and come back early. I would just leave the entrance reduced to 4 bee-widths for a few days and see if the commotion calms down. If you can hold them at bay until flowers start to bloom, they should back off. The fact that many bees are confused by the towel could indicate they are robbers, especially if the resident bees are finding their way in. By the way, a bee that isn’t carrying pollen isn’t necessarily a robber, it could be a nectar-foraging bee.

  • I searched your index for “underboards” with no success because apparently I’m the only one who calls them that, but for everyone who is worried about possible robbing, when I check the underboards/varroa drawers and don’t see more than the usual amount of wax fragments then I give less weight to my robbing worries (and look for something else to worry about).

    Also, totally off topic, I knew I was looking at SOMETHING odd, and what it eventually turned out to be was a queen on the ground by one of my hives, and bunches of bees all around her. If I knew where she came from I could put her back, although she seemed like a nice big queen, not just making a mating flight, so I’m thinking it’s some kind of tiny late swarm and she’d just swarm again if I knew which hive to return her to. Which, I just throw up my hands in exasperation because it’s way too late for swarms, and I already have five colonies where I assured my beloved domestic partner I only wanted one, but you need two, and four going in to winter improves your chances of two in the spring, but never more than four, I promise.

    Where was I? Oh, yes, rambling off topic. If you don’t want that, please tell me, because I hope to be entertaining, not obnoxious.

    • Roberta,

      Don’t worry, you have been plenty entertaining over the years. I like your reasoning for number of hives, it makes sense in a perverse sort of way.

  • Hi Rusty, I have had my TBH’s honey combs robbed. I have noticed uncharacteristically loud buzzing at the front of the hive but can’t say that I’ve seen many fights. I have seen numerous wasps and even witnessed one flying directly without even pausing before I made a robber screen. It’s been difficult to figure out if I have robbers that have figured out the screen. There are bees with pollen, bees without pollen, and bees that appear to be passing nectar to one another. It does appear to be calmer since putting the screen on but I heard loud buzzing tonight. I then saw that there were several bees fanning at the screen entrance. Do robber bees fan to guide in their friends??

    • Rhonda,

      Robbers don’t fan their friends in, but the bees that live there will fan after you put on a robbing screen to direct their sisters to the right opening. How long ago did you add the screen?

  • Rusty,

    I put the robber screen on 3 days prior to observing this fanning. But I have changed the configuration some and I had orienting bees on and off (still lots of brood) while I suspected robbing going on at the same time. I am glad to know that robber bees don’t fan each other into the super secret opening 🙂 It is so hard to tell what is going on, all I know is much of my honey stores are gone although the honey on the brood comb is still intact. I haven’t seen fighting, just agitation and loud buzzing. Usually I am able to see a yellowjacket when they are behaving this way. I don’t see dead bees inside or outside the hive. The comb doesn’t look ragged and there are no wax pieces on the bottom of the hive. Some of the honey was uncapped and is now gone…some of the capped honey is still capped although there are random cells missing honey. All of my bees look so different that I would have no idea who should be there and who shouldn’t. The only thing I know for certain is there have been a lot of yellowjackets hanging around the hive and I definitely saw one enter in a “bee line” as if it was not her first time going in!

    • Rhonda,

      Based on your description (no ragged comb, no wax bits, no fighting) I suspect your own bees ate the honey stores. That frequently happens in late summer, especially if the weather is dry and flowers are few. Remember, bees store honey for times of shortage, and shortage can occur in the summer as well as the winter.

  • Wow…they did that in one week! I definitely saw wasps enter the hive though. I consolidated a honey comb that they built later in the season that was in front right at the entrance and moved it to the back. They immediately started rebuilding the comb (in September!) so I will also check to see if they moved some of the honey to that comb. They are still bringing in so much pollen. I didn’t think for a second that they were short on food. I have started feeding and seems as though I will have to through the winter to give them a chance.

    Thanks for your help!

  • I had two hives with adequate honey stores in October who we battling some yellowjackets attempting to rob the hives. Placed reducers on the entrance for both and that seemed to work. Just checked them today – 25 Nov (weather finally over 50 degrees) and both hives are empty. About 25-30 dead bees in each and a few on the ground around the hives, but gone. In my weaker hive I found the queen dead, but in the stronger hive it is like they abandoned it. Thoughts? Did the yellowjackets wipe them out or did they abandon the hive.


    • Kevin,

      It sounds to me like the yellowjackets found a couple of weak colonies and took advantage of them. Based on what you describe, I think the real problem was viral disease carried by varroa mites. If you haven’t already, read this post. It describes the symptoms of varroa collapse and how it happens.

      • Rusty,

        Thanks, sad to say but the article is dead-on what the scene looks like. I will check the remaining brood cells for mites now that I know to take a look at that.

        Is it safe to re-use the honey and comb from these hives as I re-start my colonies next spring?

        Thanks again, love your site,


        • Kevin,

          Yes, it is safe to re-use both the honey and the combs. The mites cannot survive without live bees, so they are not an issue. Viruses can survive a while, but it’s not very long. Offhand I can’t remember exactly how long, but I believe it is hours or days, certainly not months. Of course, a new colony can quickly pick up both mites and viruses from the environment, so you have stay on top of mite management.

          • Rusty,

            Thanks, our winter should take care of them here in WV. Appreciate your insight and help – thank you.


  • Hi Rusty,

    We have a native bee hive in a tree in our yard in Colorado. A hive has been there every year for the 20 years that we’ve lived her. Last year, in the late fall, during a time that Colorado was experience a nectar dearth, robbers came and killed off the hive. It was a few weeks of intense fighting but the hive was decimated. Wasps came in and cleared out the remains. 🙁

    This spring, we do have bees flying around the entrances again. Are these the looters returned to finish off what’s left or could it be a new hive establishing itself? What do each look like?


    • Kathy,

      It sounds like you had a feral colony of honey bees in there. The native bees of North America do not live in big colonies like that. The robbers were probably also honey bees, either feral or managed. The bees you see this spring are most likely scout bees from another colony looking for a place to set up a new home, not the same bees that did the robbing, although they could be from the same colony. They might choose your tree or they might not.

  • Hi Rusty, thank you for all the great info, very helpful! A new beekeeper in Northern Calif. I got the package in mid-April and so far doing well. The classes I took recommended a hive check every 2 weeks to help learn the process. I’ve been doing that & it has been fascinating. The honey super was added 2 weeks ago & was planning to do a hive check this week. However, the local bee club I joined a couple of people have mentioned issues with robbing already, one colony destroyed. Our nectar starts on the early side, late March, and usually over by August. However, this year we had very little rain, so dearth might start in July. Being new to this, I immediately researched robbing, found your site, and invaluable info. My long-winded question, the past few days I have noticed guards having a tussle & a couple of bees at back of hive trying to get in. Have reduced entrance accordingly & thinking forgoing hive check for now, is that irresponsible? I’m worried if I open it up, the potential robbers will get in, notify their sisters, & chaos erupt. Any suggestions would be helpful, thank you.

    • Lisa,

      As you said above, the every-two-week inspection is for your benefit, not the bees’ benefit. It is to help you learn what’s going on inside the hive. With robbing a good possibility, and fighting and bees looking for alternative openings are sure signs of it, it would be irresponsible to open the hive at this point.

  • Hi all:

    Just pulled honey off 3 of 4 producing colonies. The fourth had to wait. Installed triangular escape board. Planned to grab that batch around 9 am this cooler morning and saw that there was robbing happening on that colony. Gorilla taped any holes and edges. Top cover no entry although they are trying. This is a big colony. Lots of guards at the entrance. My plan is to go out there around 5 am to 6 am tomorrow and pull those supers. What do you think? Or this evening?


  • Thanks Rusty;

    I did pull them off early morning and there were some hanging out in supers I brushed most of them out. I just finished hand cranking 13 supers about 27 gallons. On a side note applying the oxalic drip here in Eastern SD, it may be too cold by December 21. When do you think? I had thought late October. Thanks Rusty.

  • I relocated a hive that was found under a wooden pallet, it is the beginning of fall. it is now at my yard that has poor nectar and honey flow, I am giving pollen patties and hive top feeders but they are in a single deep brood box, there seems to be a lot of robbing, I covered the entrance with grass to just a tiny entrance and there still seems to be robbing, do I remove the hive top feeder even though they are just getting adjusted?

    The robbing has been going on for about 4 days but I checked the hive once the sun was down and the robbers have left and there seemed to be a strong colony. IDK what to do and how to get rid of the robbers.

    Also if I get the robbing under control, since it’s just a single deep brood box do you think my hive will survive winter, it doesn’t snow here in California where I’m at in the Central Valley.

    • Pablo,

      Robbing is a problem this time of year because very few resources are available. Don’t put anything in the syrup or patties, like Honey-B-Healthy, because robbers can smell it at a distance. Can you lock your bees up for a few days or add a robbing screen? I find that inexpensive robbing screens work really well and can save your colony.

      Even a single deep will need food if they don’t have enough. Even if temperatures are warmish, not much is in flower during the winter. I think you should consider feeding them all winter if you can.

  • I noticed some robbing wasps getting into my reduced entrance hive early morning. I’ve experimented with adding fondant to the landing board. So far the bees are feeding on it heavily and also the wasps. Of the last 3 days, I’ve observed no wasps heading into the hive instead taking their fill of fondant, progressively as the weather gets colder wasp numbers will reduce.

    • Sam,

      That’s an interesting observation. I know wasps eat sweets when they need energy, but they like meat (insects) to take home to the brood. I wonder if like bees, they don’t have much brood in late autumn.

      • Yeah seen that too, they take the dead/dying old bees from below the landing board. I have opened my entrance up fully now to allow the bees to take as much fondant in as possible without traffic. I will observe tomorrow to see if any wasps are interested in getting in or if they will continue with the fondant.

  • Hawai’i beekeeper here. This has been such a crazy year of robbing for me. It’s been so much that I 1) feel like it’s dangerous to treat because I have to open the hives down to the bottom to check and 2) have so much honey on the hives that they will swarm soon – because I haven’t figured out how to get it off without inciting a riot.

    What to do? I have a 20 hive apiary. I can send you some epic pics of robbing. Thankfully I’ve only lost 2 hives that were not queenright.

    Nalo Meli

    • Nalo,

      Some people say that if your colonies are robbing each other, you should do all your treating/harvesting on the same day so all the bees are busy defending their own place. Don’t know how well it works, but it’s a thought.

      If you want to add photos, you can email them to me:

    • I heard that here in Italy a beekeeper has recently commercialized an add-on for the hive entrance designed to keep robbers outside by tricking them. I saw many beekeepers talking about it on YouTube and even the inventor showing the design. If you find the video and it is not commercialized in yuor country, you could try to build it yourself.

  • I have a question. We looked in our hive today, and there were not many bees there. We looked further into the hive there were dead bees covering the floor of the hive also on the entrance pad bees were fighting and the entrance pad was covered in yellow substance that we thought was bee feces. What happened to them?

    • Fonda,

      Well, I think you came to the right post because it sounds like robber bees found your hive. If the colony was weak for some reason, say varroa mites or queen loss, it would have a difficult time trying to defend itself from a hoard of robbers. The bees would fight, many would die, and the robbers would then be free to steal any honey that was stored. The yellow stuff is probably feces, just as you assumed. If the bees in your colony had dysentery, that could also have weakened them. It all sort of fits together.

      When you rebuild, be sure to use a robbing screen. They are inexpensive and fit over the front of the hive, keeping out both robbing bees and robbing wasps.

  • Very interesting. Now the important question is: how can I grow a powerful army of robber bees to conquer and devastate my neighbours’ hives like a dothraki horde XD?

  • I have 3 hives and this past year I lost all 3 to exceptionally wet winter weather. I gathered the honey from the supers but left the brood boxes with honey inside. I decided not to replace the bees this year and now the robber bees are cleaning out the honey . If I replace the bees next year will the robbers have cleaned things up pretty good for a new bee package to start fresh? Is it best to block them out now and try to salvage the brood box honey? I just thinking to let the robbers clean the frames up for me. Now that the robbers found the hives this year, will they be more likely to attack them next year when I put a new package in?

    • Todd,

      You can do it either way: let the robbers clean up or give the new colonies the old honey. Robbing this year doesn’t guarantee robbing next year because bees don’t live that long.

  • Hi Rusty, I had some really intense robbing yesterday. I threw a wet sheet over the hive and most of the robbers left. What I am wondering is when is it safe to inspect the hive and see how bad the damage was? I don’t even know if they survived the attack. I don’t want to invite the invading army back again though. Thanks for any advice.

    • Jessica,

      I think you should wait two or three days. Any insects that were among the robbers will probably check back every so often, just to be sure they haven’t overlooked anything. If the hive is open, things could go downhill in a hurry. If the colony is okay, they will be busy repairing things. If it’s not okay, inspecting won’t make any difference. When you finally do open it, try opening it just before dark when most robbers are heading home for the day.

  • So I’m an aspiring beekeeper and I set up my first swarm trap some days ago. I dipped the old comb I got in honey and even set up a feeder just in front of the hive, thinking to myself ‘well, this will really attract them swarm scouts’.

    I just went back to check on it today and the feeder wasn’t only dry, but the combs I dipped in honey had been sucked dry, with no bees in sight. Naive as I was, I added some more syrup to the feeders and hung around for a while. After a few mins, there was a flurry of activity around the hive. I got excited only to be shocked after a while when I realized that the feeder was empty again and there weren’t any bees left.

    • Thierry,

      Honey is not the right thing to use if you are trying to attract a swarm. Bees will immediately find the honey, eat it, and leave, just as you describe. To attract a swarm, you need things that smell like home. Old dark brood comb works about the best. Depending on what’s available in your area, you may also be able to purchase a swarm lure that mimics honey bee pheromones.

      In my experience, old brood comb works like a miracle. Just set out a box loaded with used dark comb, and you should get a swarm. No honey is necessary.

  • Just my hunch, but I suspect that scout bees from an impending swarm would not report an active site of feeding/robbing to be a good spot for the new digs. Wouldn’t make sense; the whole neighborhood knows this spot for easy pickings, so if they set up house there, they’d get robbed immediately.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Love your blog/site, tons of good info.

    Yesterday I came home after a couple of hours to my queen castle being robbed. I had put robber screens on made from supposedly #8 hardware cloth I bought from Amazon. Used the same for the vent holes. The bees were going through the mesh with a little wiggle. I took the screens off and blocked the entrances, and put fiberglass window screen with thumb tacks on the vents and on the robber screens. It started to rain and thunder shortly thereafter and defused the scene. I measured the 1/8” mesh which was closer to 3/16.

    I would warn anyone buying materials to make sure it is what you were told it is.

    Also, these narrow screens with an entrance on top, the bees don’t act as confused initially with the metal shield, it’s darker behind it and the entrance/exit hole is easier for them to see, or that’s my take on it.

    Thank you for the cool site,

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