Robber bees

An annoying and frustrating part of honeybee behaviour, is that of ‘robbing’. When hives have many forager-bees and can’t find good sources of nectar, these foragers might go looking for that nectar in other hives. In most of north-western Europe, July and August are the months where it is most common for this behaviour to occur.

The new garden where my bees are now, is a very rich area during spring. There are swamp-forests around that are full of willows and wild flowers. Black locust trees bloom in May, alongside chestnuts. June was the best month, because streets in my town are lined with linden trees. Then, suddenly, during late June to July, the area dries up. The forager-bees suddenly don’t have as much nectar to find and they start looking for weak-spots in their neighbours’ security systems.

Two defensive hives

I’d need magic to increase the nectar sources in my garden right away, but there are things I can do to reduce the robbing tendency.

Firstly, I keep entrances very small. Even on large hives if the robbing is really bad. Some hives are quick to show they’re ready to defend themselves, others aren’t as effective. I have both purebred queens and hybrid queens in my apiary, and I can tell you it’s not always the hybrids who are the most defensive, contrary to what some people believe. Secondly, I try to keep strong hives together and move weaker, or smaller colonies to another location where I know there isn’t much competition from other hives. Third, feed colonies through feeders inside their hives and use sugar feed! Feeding honey would have the opposite effect and would encourage robbing. Robbing is so bad at this time, I have to take a wet cloth with me when checking my hives to clean up any honey spills that happen during hive-checks.

Despite taking precautions, some hives don’t make it. These hives will be completely overrun with intruders, the frames will be destroyed and all honey will be robbed. Pollen frames often remain intact, as do other frames that are of no interest to the robbers. Robbers can kill the queen and destroy brood inside a hive if the situation is really out of control. Wasps and hornets will join robber bees in invading hives that can’t protect themselves.

This year the intense robbing surprised me, but I consider myself warned. I’ll improve the habitat where I can and will improve the hive entrance reducers. Most of the ones I have now can only be reduced to an entrance of about 4cm wide and 1 cm high at the highest point. I want to start using more metal slide-entrances that I can make either very wide, or as small as only leaving room for one or two bees in the entrance. Hopefully I wont see this problem again next year!

Metal entrance reducer on a Segeberger poly hive

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