Preventing “Bee On Bee” Crime – The Robbing Situation

I’ve been keeping bees for almost seven years now, and for the most part I’ve had good luck.  My two hives are strong and disease-free, and one has successfully requeened itself.

One Of My Healthy Hives

I’m sure my success is due to where I live and the quality of bees I’ve purchased rather than any particular skill on my part.  I’m the only beekeeper for miles, and my neighbors are avid gardeners.  I’ve ordered my bees from reliable suppliers with good reputations in the industry.

I have had one disaster though. I don’t like to think about it because it was totally my fault.  And I lost an entire colony in less than three days.

It happened in September of my second year of beekeeping.  My colony of Buckfast bees was healthy and strong, and had just produced a bumper crop of honey.

Being a novice, I felt guilty about taking their honey and decided to feed them some sugar syrup.  Since nectar was still flowing, the bees didn’t want any of it.  After a week or so, I removed the feeder and dumped the syrup next to the hive.

That was a huge mistake. You should never dispose of syrup near the hive, or even leave uncovered syrup or honey anywhere close to it.  Within hours, my hive was under major attack from every wasp, bee and honey-loving insect for miles.

A Robbery In Progress

It looked like something out of a science fiction movie.  I tried everything to stop it, including covering my hive with a wet sheet. It was too little, too late.

The Wet Sheet Method Of Stopping The Crime

I tried to save the remaining bees, but ultimately they were decimated.  The hive was even invaded by wax moths.  I destroyed the frames and let the supers freeze outside the next winter.  I felt guilty and depressed.

The next year I started fresh with a new package, and haven’t had a major disaster since. But I know the same thing could happen again if I’m not careful.

That incident convinced me that beekeepers underestimate the threat of robbing insects to the existence of their hives.

What can we do to reduce this threat?

First and foremost, NEVER leave uncovered syrup or honey near your hives, even for a minute.  Once a robbing situation begins, it’s very difficult to stop.

Second, protecting your bees from wasps, wax moths, and robber bees begins with a strong colony that can defend itself. Follow good beekeeping practices.

Third, be vigilant. If you see signs of wasps or other robbing insects at the entrance of your hives, use an entrance reducer at the smallest opening, particularly if the colony is small.  If a robbing frenzy has already started, close up the hive and/or use a wet sheet to discourage the intruders. Pray for it to stop!!

I hope this helps you prevent “bee on bee” crime in your neighborhood!!

13 thoughts on “Preventing “Bee On Bee” Crime – The Robbing Situation

  1. Green Knight says:

    useful info. Nature, red in tooth and claw. or mandible.

  2. Wow, that must have been so stressful and sad. Thank you for sharing this. It’s good to know. So glad you learned what to do for the future, too.

  3. willowbatel says:

    Yikes! I’m always concerned about robbing when the hives look overly active all of the sudden, because I know there’s a wild hive only a few blocks away, but I wasn’t 100% sure what it looked like. I’ve never experienced anything as terrifying as what’s in that picture though. The bees occasionally do have ‘too many’ bees on the hive, including on the sides, which I know is a sign of an attack, but it doesn’t ever last long and things quickly go back to normal. I’ll look into this more now that I’ve got an idea of what it looks like though! Thanks for the pic (though I’m sorry you had a reason to take it).

    • People often fear that “bearding”, which is bees gathering outside the hive in hot weather, is “robbing.”
      Believe me, you can tell the difference!! Robbing is a huge cloud of angry insects, clearly fighting. There’s nothing leisurely about it!!
      The picture is not my hive being robbed. Mine looked much worse!!
      It’s definitely something to try and avoid…

      • willowbatel says:

        Let’s hope I never experience this. I don’t feed my bees, so there shouldn’t ever be a reason for them to robbed.
        Yeah, I just ‘take notes’ on what the girls look like in their various activities and if things aren’t going as they should then I get really concerned. Occasionally there will be times where there are a lot of new bees out and with the increase in activity they sometimes have a hard time landing and fall on their backs. This is usually what makes me concerned about robbing, because bees shouldn’t just be falling out of the sky, but no ones ever actively going after one another. Bees shouldn’t be so stressful!
        What could be worse than that?!

      • lindajh says:

        We are trying to decided if our hive is being robbed or whether the bees are just too hot inside the hive! Any advice how to distinguish?? Masses and masses of bees – similar to pic above but more of them. Quite a lot have pollen in their pollen sacks and i read that robbing bees do not carry pollen. Tried the sheet method but this is our 3rd day! We live in SW Cornwall UK, – nice sunny autumn weather but not exactly hot outside (16C max)

      • Is there enough room in the hive? If there is not fighting going on outside the hive, it probably isn’t a robbing situation. You may just need to add on another box.

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