Robbing in the Hive

The information in this article is taken from: "Apiculture: An Introduction to Bees and Beekeeping", Dr. Mark Winston.

One of the most serious and least understood beekeeping problems of beginners is that of robbing. If as a beekeeper your powers of observation are keen, you may notice many bees attracted to your place of extraction or to any exposed honey or combs. This behaviour is particularly noticeable when the nectar is no longer available in the flowers. This is a sure sign that the honey flow has ended and that fall is on the way.

If conditions are right, honeybees will start to rob very quickly. Robbing is particularly acute during periods when there is a dearth of nectar. Large, well- populated hives of bees suddenly find that there is no nectar available, so they will turn their attention to robbing any available source of honey. Available bees begin scouting around for a source of food. They will find anything which contains or has recently contained honey for miles around. If any beekeeper in the area has carelessly left exposed, dead hives, recently extracted supers of combs or honeycomb cappings, robbing bees will likely find it.

Careless handling or spilling of sugar syrup will also start robbing especially when there is a shortage of nectar.

When robbing is in full swing hives become almost frantic in their anxiety to obtain some of the honey or sugar syrup which is available. Once the source of robbing has been removed most hives will quickly return to normal activities. However, in their frenzy to obtain honey, strong hives will sometimes attack and destroy weak hives, after which they will remove the honey from the vanquished hive to their own. Since bee disease causing organisms may be in the hives, combs or cappings from which bees are robbing, every precaution must be taken to prevent robbing.

  1. Never leave any honey, cappings, wet combs or dead hives exposed to foraging bees, particularly during spring and fall.
  2. If robbing starts remove the source and reduce hive entrances. Grass placed in the entrances will help to prevent robber bees from gaining access to weak colonies.
  3. When hives have died, close up the entrance or better still, sort the combs and store all in a bee-tight building.
  4. The best solution to robbing. Never permit the bees to start robbing by being careless in your beekeeping habits.