The Bee Space

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.