A Robbing Frenzy

I’m not an expert on dealing with a robbing frenzy because I hardly ever see it. I think I’ve only had it happen once, a few years ago when I spilled some sugar syrup spiked with anise extract in my beeyard. And… I did it again.


For those who don’t know, robbing is exactly what he sounds like (one of the few instances of a beekeeping term leaving little room for interpretation). Bees from one hive break into a neighbouring hive, usually defended by a weaker colony, and they steal as much honey as they can. The defending colony goes into an all out defensive mode — literally all out, as in all the bees, or as many as can be spared, go outside the hive ready to rumble and discourage attackers. This can result in a lot of dead bees at the end of the day. Some hives can be robbed of all their honey — which usually means they’re dead.

A whole lotta bees going outside to protect their honey.

Robbing usually occurs during a dearth when the bees are starved for nectar and honey — like in the fall. Any whiff of an easy nectar source (e.g., wet honey frames left outside, spilled syrup), especially if it’s close to the beehives, can trigger the robbing instinct. The bees just lose their minds. They become a different insect, more like wasps on methamphetamine than the docile friendly honey bees were used to seeing.

That’s the extent of my knowledge of robbing based on the research I’ve done over the years. My experience with robbing, though, is minimal.

I reduced the bottom entrances on all my hives to prevent the robbing that seemed to be on the go, but I’ve since learned that I should have blocked off the top entrances too. Robbing guards made of mesh work. There’s a bunch of stuff, stuff I’ve never much bothered with because robbing has never a big problem for me. But come September next year, I might slap together a few robbing guards and keep them on standby.

I’ll check on my hives later. Hopefully I was able to prevent the worst from happening.

For more information on robbing, check out Honey Bee Suite.

5 thoughts on “A Robbing Frenzy

  1. Of all the bad behaviors bees can exhibit, I think robbing is the worst, maybe next to insane aggression. You said it, it’s like they’re losing their minds. And it’s one thing when you see a mature hive being mobbed, they’re capable of defending themselves but if you’re building nucs, they can be wiped out in hours. I’m really careful this time of year with open feed and wet gear. I put wet boxes back on the hives late in the evening, reduce openings and be really careful about spilling syrup in the yard. Even still, within 15 minutes of putting some supers back on a large hive the other evening, it was total pandemonium. No idea where all these bees were coming from but it was just darkness and rain the next day that put an end to it. Not fun to watch.

    P

  2. I had a wet super out for maybe 15 minutes while I was loading a feeders up with syrup. I spilled the syrup, forgot about the wet honey frames — the perfect storm. I got stung in the nose so had put on my bee jacket, though generally the bees didn’t seem to be aiming for me. I just got caught in the line of fire.

    The sound of the buzz from the bees was different, slightly higher pitched, and the flying speed was intense. It was full throttle. I think, I hope, most of the bees I saw outside the hives were just defending the hive, not robbing. But I don’t know. I just haven’t seen enough of this behaviour up close to know exactly what I’m looking at.

    Funny how I’ve gone so long without really having to deal with this.

    I’ve heard from other beekeepers who have lost nucs and colonies to robbing. If I hadn’t been there to catch it, I’m not sure what would have happened.

    I was scraping off some burr comb in another small beeyard that I run, and within minutes the comb with a bit on honey leaking out was balled by bees, just covered. All of my colonies in that yard are strong, so I don’t think I triggered a robbing frenzy.

    But yeah, it’s definitely in the air. These bees are ready to pounce.

  3. Amazing!! Wow. We learn so much from your experiences. Lol!! Did you see what happened to our wet frames? FOX feeding frenzy. Can’t wait to hear a follow up post…. do they just eventually chill out? Everyone ok?

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