Hive Robbers

Hive robbers are bad for your beehive. I am not talking about the two legged kind.  I am referring to honeybees which will rob other beehives.  Not too long ago I received the following sad message from Fred:

We’re pretty much beginners, our third try at keeping bees.  We have learned from our mistakes, but our latest hive has just succumbed to raiders after being so promising. We had a healthy hive as far as we could tell and had added two honey supers and were looking forward to harvesting one after opening the top one and finding it almost completely full.

We noticed frenzied activity

Yesterday evening we noticed frenzied activity around the entrance and upon closer examination it became apparent the hive was being raided by other smaller, darker bees.  We do not know how long this had been going on.  I tried driving away the raiders with a smoker then a garden hose, but the raiding continued till dark.  After browsing a little, I found a source that said close the hive entrance to about a 1/2 inch opening–it had been wide open to facilitate ventilation.  What causes raiding ? How can it be prevented or thwarted if it is discovered ‘in time’?  Our hive is now totally emptied out, stripped bare–both supers and brood box……..We are stunned.

Ouch.  Hive robbing is never good. From the sound of it, Fred’s beehives were being robbed by feral, or wild, bees.  Scout bees from a feral swarm probably smelled the large amounts of honey inside the hive.  They probably found that the beehive had a weak defense and they were able to slip into Fred’s beehive quickly, grab some honey and get out.  The scout bees would have gone back to the main colony and reported to the other bees where to find the honey.  Soon, all of the feral foraging bees were robbing from Fred’s beehive.  Robbing can get so bad that the bee colony being robbed will abscond, which is apparently what Fred’s did.

How can you prevent hive robbing?  Reducing the entrance does help.  This assists the honeybees in defending their home by giving them a smaller space to guard.  However, the best defense against hive robbing is a strong hive.  The healthier and stronger your beehive is, the better it can defend itself.  Also, make sure that your bees have plenty of forage.  If your beehives are in an area with few flowering plants, move them to a better location.

Try to remove the robbing beehive

Once hive robbing starts, there is really no way to stop it except to eliminate the robbing hive. You must follow the robber bees back to their hive and find a way remove them to another location for a few days.  If the robbing bees are from another beehive, try to move the beehive at least two miles away.  Move the beehive at night so that you are sure to get all the honeybees inside the beehive.  If the robbing hive is a feral colony, you can remove them from their location and install them into a new beehive.  Then, move them at least two miles away.  After a couple of days, move them back to see if this stops the robbing.

Often moving the beehive will take care of the problem.  But sometimes a bee colony is a chronic robber colony and nothing can be done to stop this beehive from robbing other hives.  In this case it is up to the beekeeper to decide if he should re-queen the hive.  Some beekeepers will even kill a robbing hive, seeing that robbing can spread throughout an apiary with each bee colony following the bad example of the others.  While these can be drastic measures to take, they might be the only way to save your beehives.

Build strong beehives!

In summary, the best way to protect your beehives from robber bees is to build them up strong in the spring and summer, reduce their hive entrance in the late summer and early fall, and to check your beehives on a regular basis.

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43 responses to “Hive Robbers

  1. I saw a documentary about hive robbing by wasps. Absolutely brutal! Love your blog, keep the posts coming! Is all of the photography on your page your own? Spectacular stuff!

  2. drgnflyz – Thanks for your kind words. Yes, all of the photography is mine, except where indicated. Glad you like it!

  3. The best way to prevent the honey robbing is to narrow your entrance to the hive with a long piece of wood. I would leave only about an inch opening during the winter. February or March I would remove it.

  4. Paul – Thanks for mentioning that! In some areas of the country, beekeepers may need to leave an opening of two or three inches…especially if they have a large hive. The best way to find out how big a winter hive opening you need is to check with other beekeepers in your area.

  5. After reading your site, it made me want to check on my bees. I only have about 10 hives. I have 4 hives at my father in law’s home and so I checked on them. I lost one of the hives. I checked and there were no bees except robber bees. I removed the hive completely and narrowed the other entrances to the other hives. The other hives were very strong, but I did not want to get a frenzy started.

  6. Paul – Glad to hear most of your hives are strong. Too bad about that one hive. At least now you have an empty beehive ready to go for next swarm season.

  7. how do you follow bees back to the hive? i have alot of bees in my garden,and i would like to find the hive so i can get me some of that honey! my grandfather was a beekeeper and showed me alittle about the little guys…but these were Michigan bees…not arizona bees where i live are 100% integerated with africanized bees(but not as agressive as evryone says)…so i feel ok about getting the honey…but how do you find them? can you help? than you

  8. thank you so much Nick! i hope that you and yours stay covered in the sticky stuff!!

  9. It’s ridiculous to automatically blame feral bees on the robbing. I’ve been beekeeping for 12 years with 30 colonies and never heard such nonsense.
    Firstly, the likelihood of feral colonies these days is remote due to decimation in the last 20 years. And one of my apiaries has been peacefully coexisting for years near a feral hive without incident. Robbing mostly occurs during times when natural sources of nectar are scarce anyway. Hives that are strong will rob out the weak especially when there is no current nectar flow and subsequent to the harvest. I’ve had neighbors tell me that some of my bees were robbing their hives. These were newbies that did not know about hive strength, proper harvesting times, entrance reduction, etc. If you harvest honey from a hive other hives will want to rob it due to the smell of the honey. If you do not take measures to close the entrance during this time the stronger colonies can get a foothold and eventually overwhelm the weak hive. This happens all the time if you’re not careful. It is coincidental that the robber bees coloring is dark too. I have bees that are light golden and some hives are jet black, others are gray. My neighbors were telling me that dark bees were robbing theirs. That’s half of my apiary!

    This article is another case of the Blind leading the blind.

    • ric – Thanks for your comment! Here are some thoughts for you:

      It’s ridiculous to automatically blame feral bees on the robbing.

      It may seem I was jumping to conclusions, but all I had to go on was Fred’s description. He has only one hive. So, there are only two sources of bees that could be robbing his hive. Either they came from another beekeeper’s hive, or they came from a wild hive. Wild bees are very common in my area, and in many areas around the US. Wild hive density has actually been going up in my area over the last 15 years. So, I thought it may have been a feral hive, but I did not rule out a bee colony kept by a beekeeper. In the latter part of the article, I describe a solution to the problem if it is another hive: If the robbing bees are from another beehive, try to move the beehive at least two miles away. Move the beehive at night so that you are sure to get all the honeybees inside the beehive.

      The likelihood of feral colonies these days is remote due to decimation in the last 20 years.

      I don’t agree at all. I can vouch for literally hundreds of swarms that were caught and hived just last year in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I would be interested to see some evidence to support your claim. I have been directly and indirectly involved in the collection of feral swarms for years, and I cannot agree with your statement. It may be true for your geographic area, but it is not true across the board.

      It is coincidental that the robber bees coloring is dark too.

      Again, the majority of feral swarms I catch are darker colored bees compared to the golden and golden-gray Italians you get in bee packages from suppliers. I have wondered about the coloring, and so have asked other beekeepers, and even done some research into this topic. It does seem that feral swarms are consistently darker colored most of the time. Occasionally you get golden and yellow swarms, but this seems to be rarer.

      This article is another case of the Blind leading the blind.

      I welcome discussion on these topics, but let’s play nice with others. Thanks! :)

    • Ric has some good thoughts in his response, but Ric, why do you have to make it so personal? You can disagree without the put downs.

  10. Is this thread still alive?

    Follow up question re a hive that’s being raided.

    I fear my hive is being raided and the suspect hive is across the street and belongs to someone else. Moving the hive-of-the-raiders is not an option. How about moving the victim-hive? Not much room to move it; certainly not two miles (and keep it in my backyard). Would moving it to the other side of the yard (of a half-acre) do any good at all? Winter is fast approaching and if I can’t my hive w/o feeding the raiders, I fear my hive is doomed.

    Thank for any advice!

  11. Sorry about your robbing situation, Dave. Here are a couple thoughts that might help.

    First, make sure the entrance to your hive is reduced. A smaller entrance will make the hive easier to defend. I had an unexpected robbing situation develop while combining a Lang hive body with a Warre hive last week. It was bad, with lots of fighting going on. Something had to be done fast, so I grabbed a fistful of weeds and tucked them across the hive entrance. (It happened to be ragweed – I finally found a use for the nasty stuff!;o) The next day there were only about ten bees dead on the bottom board. I’m sure it would have been worse with an open entrance.

    Second, if your hive is a Warre, I’d highly recommend building and using Warre’s fall feeder. We built one, and it’s been great. It sits over the top hive body and under the quilt, so it’s completely inaccessible from the outside. It holds a lot of syrup, and gives the bees a lot of safe access. I was amazed how quickly the bees got it down into the comb.

    I’m hoping to get pictures of the feeder up on a blog soon. In the meantime, good luck with your bees!

    Katherine

  12. I have had bees for about one month in australia. We have tried twice to catch swarmes of bees. Each time we put them in a box they left in a couple of days. We have finaly got a swarm to stay. Two days ago I saw a big cloud of bees around my hive. There was a lot of activity around the entrance , so i totally blocked up the entrance. Did I do right? PLEASE ANSWER!!!!

    • Hi Gil, I don’t think blocking them in is going to make them want to stay :-( There could be a number of reasons that they are absconding, it’s possible you didn’t get the queen, there could be something about the new hive they don’t like etc… if i were you I would contact Iddee at http://www.beekeepingforums.com. It’s free to sign up over there and they talk swarms quite a bit.

  13. Hi,

    Great plans.
    I have 2 questions….

    1. Do I paint the landing pad & entrance? [ I am using Linseed Oil ]

    2. What is the purpose of the quilt sandwiched between the top hive box & quilt box? As I understand it, this is in addition to the quilt box?

    Thanks,
    Debi

  14. This thread is really helping me. But I still have some questions. I went to check on my hive yesterday to see how they are doing with the new honey super and the queen excluder that I put on 3 days ago to come to find my hive being robbed! At first I thought they were swarming but then I saw all of the dead bees and the fighting! I felt that my hive was a strong hive (2 deeps full) super active and sometimes a little aggressive… I am wondering if putting on the queen excluder caused the problem… it doesn’t sit 100% flush with the wood so there wasn’t a clean seal, letting the sweet aroma of honey seep out and signal the bees??? My girls put up a good fight. I closed down the entrance just like all of you said, I misted them with water and smoke and finally after sun down there were only a small clump of bees on the side of the hive. I then closed the whole hive down. They have a screen bottom and hopefully enough honey to last a few days, but because they are on my roof and there is no other place to relocate them, this was my next bet to try and deter the robber bees from coming back…
    My Question…

    Is what I did right? How long can my bees stay in the hive all closed up? Will this deter the robber bees if they can no longer get to the honey source?

    This is my first hive (I have 2 and the second one is only 1 deep) and I know people loose hives all the time, but I am so nervous and I just want all the bees to be ok.

    Thanks for your help and again, great article!

    • Hi Juliet, glad you found the information useful! if your using a Warre hive and putting the new boxes on the bottom as you should then you don’t need to use a queen excluder (that is more for the folks using Lang hives) so you can take that off. You did the right think closing them off, hopefully you’ve already freed them though. This is kind of a late reply :-)

  15. Nick – I think I have been robbed, but I had no idea they would take EVERYTHING in my hive….the bees are all gone – no dead ones around anywhere, and the frames are stipped to nothing – as if they were new – other than they look a little dirty now. There are lots of larve in the hive now – but no webs like wax moths…1) have I been robbed, and 2) how do I clean up the mess in the hive now?

  16. I have a question about robbing. I’m sure there are a few of you who will think I’m a little nuts. At a bee club meeting recently, I heard one member say that you can retrain robber bees to be good bees by trapping them in the hive and allowing them to get accustomed to the pheromones of the queen.

    I recently had a bad thing happen to my one hive. The neighbor next door had her entire yard treated by a pesticide company. My previously heathy colony immediately started dying off at an alarming rate. After two weeks, I was surprised to find that the queen was still alive, but there were only a couple of hundred workers left. With that weakened condition, the robbers started coming.

    Today, figuring I had nothing to lose, I closed up the entrance and put a one-way top board upside down on top of the hive and trapped all the robbers as they came to steal honey. They aren’t too happy about that, but I thought I would try out the idea of transforming the robbers into good worker bees. They are still in there. The person who told me about this idea had left the robbers trapped for 3 days and might have left them longer, I’m not sure. I don’t know how to contact him.

    Have you ever heard of doing this and do you know if it really works?

    I am sure these are feral robbers. My city in California does not allow beekeeping and there are no commericial beekeepers within 20 miles of where I live. The colony I had was a wonderful bunch of Italians, although in the past I have kept a few Africanized feral colonies that I captured–never again.

    • Hi April, sorry to hear about the insecticide problem. I’ve never tried trapping robbers to strengthen a hive but I have read about people having some success with it. My fear for your situation would be that there are not enough workers to protect the queen and if there are a good number of robbers then they may kill her. This late in the year there isn’t much that can be done to save that hive so I’d say it’s worth a try…

  17. Thanks for your reply Nick. I tried, but it was too late. The colony is gone now. I will have to start again in the Spring. I may try two hives this year: one in the same location and another on the opposite side of my house. At least if the colonies get weak, I will have the option of combining them. I’ll have to get creative this time to camouflage the second hive so I don’t get the city on my back again due to my nosey neighbors. The biggest problem I face is the $10,000 fine for beekeeping the city has threatened me with thanks to the neighbor to the rear of my house. My tract home lot is only about 5000 sq.ft., so locating a hive is always difficult. I really thought everything was hunky dory until the next door neighbor called in the pesticide crew. If I am lucky, one day I will be able to move to a place that appreciates bees and that respects beekeeping.

  18. I am about to install a new package of bees in early April. I have a relatively strong hive existing and wish to place my new hive about one foot away from the exisitng one. Any problems with this arrangement? If so how do I deal with them?

    • That should be fine, keep an eye on them while the new bees are getting oriented to make sure there isn’t too much drifting between hives. With 2 hives I doubt you’ll have a problem.

  19. Thanks Nick.

  20. I have found that if I place two boxes close to each other, facing the entrances opposite or at least 90 degrees pretty much eliminates the drifting because of orientation…

  21. I am a new beek in AZ. I just purchased two nucs 6 days ago and placed them in medium hives (1 deep). I just realized tonight after reading some forums that one of my hives is being robbed. So tomorrow morning I am going to reduce the entrance to both of the hives. I have a screened bottom board and top entrance. Is there any way to separate the original hive from the robbers? Should I take the comb and brood and honey from the weak hive and put it with the strong hive? If I do, what do I do with the other queen? worker bees? Do I kill the robbers if the queen is dead? If I do have to destroy the bees how do I do it.

    • Hi Ben, It’s hard to say how much damage has already been done. If the robbing has been going on for 4 or 5 days then the weaker hive is probably queenless. Put an entrance reducer on the weaker hive. If you have both top and bottom entrances open then you should close off the top entrance, it may be too much for them to defend both. If they continue robbing because the weaker hive can’t defend itself then you might have to relocate 1 of them for awhile or combine like you mentioned. Keep an eye on them for a few days and check for queen cells in the weaker hive if you can’t find the queen. Time is of the essence, you need to stop the robbing fast or you will lose the weaker hive.

  22. Nick, Thanks for the help. I may have jumped the gun a little. I got home yesterday morning, inspected the hive, found the queen and watched the hive throughout the day. I reduced the entrance to about 1/2 an inch on both hives (they had been wide open) and I didn’t see a large group of bees trying to get in. I have SunKist Cordovans and they are a really yellow bee. I did notice bees in the hive that had more black toward the back end of the abdomen and some of them had pollen on their legs. I am assuming that the pollen could indicate that they are not robbers because they had gone out and are now returning. Also, I just checked some images on Google and saw some Cordovans that are a little more black on the abdomen so for now I think all is OK. Talk about a learning curve… Thanks again for your help.

  23. I knew I wasn’t the only one having problems with robbers. I would look silly following the robbers here back to someones property most likely across a lake. I have lost 6 strong hives throwing everything I had at them. We are in dearth here. Nothing for the bees to eat. When I realized what was going on I sprayed them with a hose pipe to reduce the numbers, I took a paint brush and went over the entrances with Vick’s salve to reduce the scent of the hives and reduced the size of the entrance, put boards up in front to further discourage (darting into that should have worked) yesterday I added a fine bird net then around noon I added wet sheets draped over my few remaining bees. It’s gut wrenching! The sheet worked best of anything I’ve tried thus far. The robbers had dissipated within an hour but I re wet it then will remove it tonight and let the residents who live there in. This is 4 days into this and if I remove the wet sheets the robbers come back. In the future all hives I set up will have a robber screen from start. It just makes too much sense. A friend who’s been keeping bees 73 years has never had to use one yet told me about the screens.

    • Thanks for sharing your story May, do you have AHB (Africanized Honey Bees) in your area? I wonder if you didn’t experience an AHB usurpation. That is where an Africanized swarm tries to take over the hive and replace the queen of an EHB (European Honey Bees) hive. Watch for increased aggressiveness the next time you check on those bees!

  24. No Nick, as far as I know we do not have any in this state. There are 3 other bee keepers within a couple of miles however. I think the biggest cause is the dry weather we’ve had and lack of food. Nick, they didn’t take over or replace a queen. They killed my bees! I have empty boxes and I’ve always heard about weak hives being destroyed but these were not weak hives. They were my heaviest honey producers. And it’s not over yet. I’m down to three NUC’s. Thank you.

  25. I have a different issue than the other posts I have seen on this site. Earlier this summer we had a swarm of bees that established a hive in an exterior wall of our house. I did not want to tear off the side of the house so I hired a local beekeeper who uses a trap to eliminate the hive over many months. Last week we had a swarm of bees that were everywhere (in our yard, in our neighbors yards, around the trap, in our basement). After 24-48 hours the attack swarm as well as the bees from the hive in our walls were gone and there were dead bees all over. Our beekeeper came out to inspect and diagnosed that we likely had robber bees that wiped out the existing hive, and from what I am reading on this site and elsewhere it appears that is the case. Our beekeeper now wants to seal up the entrance to the hive and call it done. My concern is that if we do so there could still be honey or other residue in the walls that could attract other pests (e.g. mice, spiders, ants, etc.). I can’t decide if we should simply close the entrance or if we are now forced to tear into the walls to make sure the hive is thoroughly removed. I would appreciate people’s thoughts or recommendations on how I should proceed.

  26. Hi, Kris,
    Sounds like WWIII! I would have no concern whatsoever that there is honey left in your walls if the robbers were able to enter them. When I do a trap-out, though, I use an escape cone that doesn’t allow the bees to re-enter. Only after the hive is established outside the walls do I allow them to rob out the house hive. If your beekeeper friend had progressed to that point, I’d go ahead and seal it up.

  27. Hi Kris, I agree with Katherine…If the robbing frenzy is over then I’m pretty sure they cleared that old hive of honey. Based on what you’ve said I would feel comfortable sealing it up.

  28. This post and comments have been very helpful in a sort of que sera sera way … This is my first year keeping bees, started with a nuc in June, have fed them since installing, and am reasonably sure that the hive was doing well. THe entrance was reduced, top entrance open. Today I noticed robber bees within an hour of their arrival – probably half an hour. It looked so insane with all the fighting going on I immediately blocked the bottom entrance completely and the top one remains open. It really did seem to make a difference with the number of intruders (who seem darker and bigger than my little sweeties), but I’m not sure whether I should open the bottom entrance again tomorrow. My inclination is to leave it closed for awhile and let them use the top entrance. And did I mention the hurricane? Sandy is due within 24 hours. Strong wind and about 10″ of rain are forecast for my area. I’m hoping that the storm will distract the robbers – is that wishful thinking? Will they pick up where they left off if Sandy interrupts them for a few days? Thanks for your thoughts and any advice. And thanks for the blog, too.

    • Hi Alison, you have a top entrance on a warre hive? Why? I’ve never found it necessary myself. If your going to use multiple entrances make sure the colony is strong enough to defend both entrances (it sounds like yours may not be). Make sure your only using 1 entrance and reduce it during this robbing frenzy to give your bees a fighting chance, your also inviting other pests such as wax moths if the colony can’t defend itself. Give this post a read too : hive robbers

      Strap the hives down and check on their honey stores after the storm, if the robbing wiped them out then you may lose this hive. Good Luck with the storm! Stay safe!

  29. So, all this robbing has me feeling like a failure, and I haven’t even started my first hive yet :( I just bought an 8 frame langstroth hive, and i’ll be taking my first shot at beekeeping in about a month. I’ve just been prepping, weather-proofing the hive, finding a good location on my property etc. I never considered the idea of hive robbing. I do have a feral hive on the side of my house. It’s been there for 4 years now. That hive is ironically what got me interested in beekeeping, and now I’m learning they can be my opposition! The feral hive will be about 75 yards away from my new hive. What can I do ( besides an entrance reducer) to prevent them from coming into the new hive? Can I entice the feral hive and just give them their own food source? The feral hive is in a cinder wall. I know the exact location. I’m always standing by the entrance of the feral hive to observe.I’m hoping if I set up a food source right outside the wall, that will keep them away. I live in Southern California…known for africanized honey bees, however I don’t think the feral hive is africanized, or I surely would’ve taken a beating from them by now. I’m interested to hear everyone’s thoughts and advice!

    • Hi Amy, welcome to the world of keeping bees. There are a few causes of robbing but distance from the feral hive shouldn’t play a role. In most cases if your Lang hive is happy and healthy they should be able to keep the feral bees at bay without too much trouble. They will protect their home and unless they are weakened by disease or overwhelmed by numbers they should do just fine. If you notice robbing going on then you should reduce the entrance and make sure there are not too many entrances to the hive. Hope that helps!

  30. I have three hives and today noticed that several of the bees entering the hive have black rear ends and are larger than the original Italians. They are being allowed to enter without challenge. Dont know if its related but that hive also swarmed two days ago. I was able to hive the swarm and the “mother” hive is still strong and I couldn’t even notice a reduction in numbers opon opening. Any idea who the black butts are?

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