Robbing

While you are removing your honey crop and doing your routine summer management procedures, extreme care must be exercised to avoid setting up the robbing instinct.  Exposed honey sources stimulate scout bees in the same way as rich nectar sources, especially during a nectar dearth.  Colonies have little respect for each other when it comes to the possession of honey.  Robbers are quickly recruited and suddenly the whole apiary is thrown into an uproar.  Nuclei, weak, and queenless colonies may be quickly destroyed and robbed of all their honey stores.  In addition, the strong colonies may lose many workers as they are robbing or in fighting robbers to protect their own stores.  When the honey supply is exhausted, their frenzy reaches its height, but it may be sometime before the colony returns to normal routine activities.  Robbing is a bad habit that is difficult to break.  Robbers are easily recognized as they eventually become smooth, shiny and almost black.

The best treatment against robbing throughout the apiary is prevention.  Robbing is seldom a menace to the careful beekeeper.  When robbing is noticed in the apiary, the entrances of all hives should be reduced according to the strength of the colony.  All cracks or openings in the equipment through which robbers might gain entrance should be closed.

In addition to reducing the entrance, it sometimes helps the colony if a board is laid across from one side of the bottom board to the other.  This forms a tunnel through which the robber must pass and in which the hive bees congregate and defend themselves.  Also, a large bunch of weeds or grass thrown in front of the entrance will hinder the robbers.  If it becomes essential to manipulate colonies when robbing is dangerous, proceed with caution, open the hives carefully, work quickly, and never leave combs of honey exposed.  All combs taken from the hive should be placed in a empty hive body and protected with a bottom and a cover.  Spare covers work nicely.  Working the bees toward evening will also reduce problems with robbing.  If colonies must be fed, the feed may be given when the weather is inclement, in late evening or early morning, and should always be placed inside the hive.  It is strongly recommended that fully capped supers be removed before the honey flow has ceased, otherwise, intense robbing may occur.

References

Caron, D.M.  1999.  Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping. Wicwas Press, Cheshire, CT., 355 pp.

Gary, N.E.  1993.  Activities and behavior of honey bees.  In: The Hive And The Honey Bee, J.M. Graham (ed.), Dadant & Sons, Hamilton, IL, pp. 269-372.

Lindauer, M. 1955.  The water economy and temperature regulation of the honeybee colony.  Bee Wld.  36: 62-72, 81-92.