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Post Extraction Robbing

How to:

  • Identify
  • Stop it
  • What to do after
  • Prevention  

By: Chari Elam

Honey is in the air! Literally when honey supers are pulled, the air is filled with the wonderful aroma of honey, beckoning other hives  to take advantage of a free food source Unfortunately, robbing can kill a perfectly vibrant hive within a matter of hours if left alone.

Identifying a robbing situation

  • A sudden increase in hive activity
  • Fighting at the entrance
  • Dead bees at the entrance or on the ground in front of the hive
  • Higher pitch hive sounds (agitation/desperation)
  • Bees gathering around the cracks and seams of the hive
  • Bees normally fly straight into a hive, while robber bees tend to sway back and forth as they try to gain access past the guard bees.
  • An overabundance of wax at the entrance or on the bottom board (under the hive if the screen is open)

Once a robbing frenzy has been identified, take action immediately! Waiting can be detrimental to your hive.

How to stop robbing – 1 or more of these can be done simultaneously

Reduce the entrance – If you don’t have an entrance reducer, a stick, grass, or anything that will reduce the entrance down to a size allowing only a couple of bees at a time to traverse.

  • Install a robbing screen– leave it on for several days
  • Drape a damp sheet over the hive – Why damp? A slightly wet sheet will keep the hive cooler during it’s time being covered. The sheet will no doubt trap a good number of robber bees, but it will allow time for the hive to gain the upper hand, not allowing more robbers in. Leave this on at least overnight. Robbing should subside by morning.
  • Run a water sprinkler over the hive – Setting up a water sprinkler, creating a “rain storm” will shut down aggressive robbing quickly. Bees can’t/won’t fly in the rain so simply create rain! Run this sprinkler for several hours if possible. It doesn’t have to be set very high, just high enough to cover the entire hive, including the entrance.
  • Tape seams and cracks – Probably one of the most common mistakes beekeepers make is allowing hive boxes to go into disrepair. Excessive openings at corners and seams can and will become an access point for robbing bees. During a robbing event, duct tape any entry point as well as wrap seams to prevent hive aroma from continuing to attract robbers.

Post Robbing

  • Check the hive for damage – Inspect the hive that experienced the robbing as soon as possible. Doing so early morning (before lunch) could help to prevent another robbing frenzy. Note: Robbing is accentuated during the peak of the day (typically mid-afternoon)
  • Excessive dead bees on the bottom board will be removed by the remaining bees, but any help you can give them is less work for them.
  • Be prepared to reduce the hive size – Often after a severe robbing a hive will have lost a substantial amount of the population.
  • If this happens consider the “box to bee ratio” and reduce the number of boxes to the number of bees left if warranted.
  • Feed Internally – keeping in mind the hive has lost a lot of its resources.
  • If the hive didn’t make it (can happen) – promptly break down the hive components and store properly for future use.
  • Hive equipment – Any hive boxes that have rotten corners or are worn allowing gaps, need to be replaced. Simply take the frames from the old box and place them in a new one and place it back on the hive.

How to prevent robbing

  • Return honey supers at dusk while other hives aren’t out foraging (or looking for the opportunity to rob other hives.) This allows the hive to clean up the excess honey in the supers overnight, eliminating the aroma of honey in the air the next day.
  • When post-harvest feeding, avoid spilling any syrup around the hive.
  • Feed using internal feeders only – area feeding and boardman feeders can attract feral colonies as well as other hives looking to take advantage of a weak hive.
  • Make quick work of inspections – the longer a hive is open the greater the chance of robbing. Get in and get out!

Remember – summer dearth
is right around the corner. As
soon as we rob honey, the
honey robbers go on the hunt!!
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