When Good Bees go Bad

This article was originally posted in June 2011, but contains seasonally relevant information.

Whenever there isn’t a good flow on (like now and throughout the rest of the summer) strong honey bee hives will often rob weak hives – if it gets bad enough they will completely decimate the hive that is being robbed.

This is the best video that I could find that actually showed robbing going on. Notice 2 things 1) The robber bees are climbing up the hive to get some extra elevation before they take off – this is typical in a robbing frenzy. 2) Groups of bees wrestling on the landing board, and falling off the front in clumps – those distinguish a robbing frenzy from orientation or swarming.

To Prevent Robbing:

  • Don’t let it get started! Much easier to prevent than to correct.
  • Don’t spill syrup or nectar.
  • Don’t drop burr comb and leave it laying.
  • Don’t use entrance feeders.
  • If you feed one hive, feed them all.  A big strong hive that is hungry is highly motivated to rob – and they don’t want to break into next winters stored honey if they don’t have to.
  • Feed late in the evening – an amount small enough to be gone by morning.
  • Restrict all entrances to very small – if there is a traffic jam at the strong hive the robber bees can’t get in to unload and make another run.  If the entrance to the weak hive is small it can be effectively defended be just a few bees.  Think of one Marine blocking a doorway compared to trying to block a whole street.  Very large natural bee hives often go in and out through very small openings.
  • When you need to open hives do what you need to do and close it back up as quickly as possible.
  • Very important – make sure there is only one entrance – including that little hole in the front of the inner cover – block that off.  A hive that is being robbed has a very hard time defending the back door.
  • Don’t open feed close to your hives!  Some people have had success shutting down a robbing frenzy by open feeding 100 yards or so away – thus drawing the robbers off to easier pickings.

 

There will be some robbing.  It’s just what they do.  When it gets out of hand you won’t have to ask anyone if it is robbing or not – it looks violent, and chaotic.  If that happens  what has worked for me  is to suit up and thoroughly smoke  all hives that might be involved – both the criminals and the victims, and completely block up the entrances until about one half hour before dark – don’t suffocate them though. Then apply corrective actions.

Robber screens are my #1 way of preventing robbing – and I have many little bitty weak hives right next to big strong hives.

I would like to encourage anyone with tips, insights, or nasty remarks to leave a comment.

This entry was posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When Good Bees go Bad

  1. Pingback: Making Increase | Cookeville BeeKeepers

  2. Michael Neukirchen says:

    I’ve been thinking about trapping robber bees to help increase the population of a weak hive, but haven’t- so far – seen an article about this.
    Michael, Seattle

    • David LaFerney says:

      It wouldn’t be too hard to trap robbers I guess, but getting them to stay where you put them within the same yard might be quite a trick.

  3. John says:

    I have a strong hive that is being robbed, though I hope not very successfully. For the last few weeks I have noticed definite fighting at the entrance. We have a class with about 15 hives on a farm in Michigan. Mine is one of the strongest. 4th medium filled with honey in about ten days. Just added a 5th. Last 3 0r 4 visits over the last 3 weeks I always see wrestling matches at the entrance, 2 or 3 fights going on. Also I am being harrassed relentlessly by guard bees. I left it alone but today I put the entrance reducer back on, to the intermediate opening. I’ll check back in a few days to see what’s happening.

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