TedsWoodworking Plans and Projects

Robbing and the Hive

Back in those “pre-historic” days of the 1920’s to the 1940’s most bees were on farm properties and tended by the farmers of that day. Hence, who was really bothered or even knew about MAD, STINGING BEES when they were around 1-2 acres of orchard trees on a 200 acre farm? Just another one of those changing times we have to face in our primarily urban society of today.

So that you and I “are on the same page”, I am not referring to harvesting your honey crop as “robbing”. I am referring to foraging bees, upon finding no nectar in the field, but detecting the strong odor of lots of nectar or honey in a neighboring colony, fights with the colonies’ guard bees and even kills the colony residents in order to STEAL those “golden goodies” and take this sweet liquid to her colony.

For many diverse reasons, often a hobbyist beekeeper has colonies of totally different population strength almost side by side in the same apiary. The very genetic nature of the worker bee dictates that she collects honey ANY place she can find it and bring it home to provide winter stores for her colony. She does not recognize privacy or “stealing” something that has been gathered, and kept by others, as “wrong”, but rather she is genetically trained to take whatever she can get for the good of her colony, and if “taking” causes a fight with the bees of another colony, then she is going to FIGHT, KILL, or BE KILLED in the struggle to gain that property. Surely, it does not require rocket science knowledge to understand that it is fairly easy for a large established colony of perhaps 30,000 bees to overwhelm and kill a new colony of perhaps only 10,000 bees, “robbing out” all the nectar and honey stored in the small colony and storing it away in the big colony.


I have had buckets of honey setting in my garage, uncovered, and in a day or two there is a swarm of bees in the bucket, “gathering” food for winter. Worker bees are programmed to get honey and nectar wherever they sniff it out and will die doing so if need be. (Indeed, some of them “drowned” in the honey till I got the lid on!)

Like so many other mistakes, generally robbing is caused by the BEEKEEPER who does something wrong, like leaving honey exposed to all the bees in the neighborhood, setting a frame on the ground and letting it drip honey in the grass, feeding sugar syrup improperly so it leaks and runs outside the hive, or using damaged hive bodies so that there are cracks between bodies large enough to allow bee entry and hence the guard bees have too many places to defend. Being simplistic, when there is a natural dearth of honey (like July and August in Missouri), the beekeeper should meticulously clean up any spills of honey, and certainly never leave a super or brood body OPEN where it can be easily entered by any number of bees from any place in the neighborhood. You just have to be a GOOD HOUSEKEEPER, and quickly clean up anything out of place that even smells like honey.

Once you have witnessed a bad robbing foray, you will never forget it. Please, do not encourage it by a lack of attentiveness to good beekeeping!

All the best to you!

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