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Identifying Robbing Activities

Identifying Robbing Activities

When a colony begins to struggle, foraging bees from other colonies will begin to test the limits, especially when a nectar dearth is underway and resources are scarce. They're trying to determine if they and their buddies can gain entrance into the hive. With persistence, the robbing bees will overcome a weakened colony that cannot protect itself from the sheer numbers of interested foraging robber bees.

3 Main Reasons Robbing Activities Take Place and What You Can Do

Having a better understanding of the three main reasons that robbing activities occur will assist you in preventing and stopping them. Let’s look at each of these scenarios.

1. Nectar Dearth

When resources are scarce (nectar dearth), bees get desperate. In their search for food, they are more than happy to take it from a weaker colony. As Darwin pointed out ... it’s survival of the fittest. The best prevention against robbing activities is to keep your hives healthy and strong.

2. Hive Inspections During a Nectar Dearth

Opening up a hive during a nectar dearth is an open invitation to robbers. They have easy access to the frames you remove and take immediate advantage of the resources available to them.  If you need to perform a hive inspection during a dearth, do so as quickly as possible. It may be best to wait until the dearth has passed, especially if a nectar flow is expected in the next couple of weeks.

3. External Feeders

Although your intent may be to feed a struggling hive, an external feeder is an open buffet to all. If you want or need to feed a hive that is struggling, your best bet is to use a feeder positioned inside the hive such as a top feeder or a frame feeder.

How to Identify Robbing Activities

It’s beneficial to know when a robbery is underway. After all, it’s the first step towards putting a stop to any robbing activities that are taking place. The following scenarios will help you identify that robber bees are making a move on your hive.

Lots of Activity Around the Hive

Robber bees dart back and forth around the hive looking for an opportunity to gain access to the hive. If many robbers are darting about the hive, it may appear as if the hive is preparing to swarm. Closer examination, however, will show that the bees are attempting to enter the hive rather than exit.

Bees Fighting

Bees use pheromones to identify each other, and each hive has its own unique scent. Therefore, when a robber bee attempts to enter, her pheromones give her away and the guard bees will attack. You will likely see bees fighting at the entrance of the hive as well as in and around the hive when robbers are present. Battles will be most visible around the entrance and on the entrance board. The ground around the entrance may be littered with dead bees.

If a weakened hive is quickly overpowered, a hive that is being robbed may appear peaceful; however, the robber bees are leaving with full stomachs.

Torn Honeycomb

When you suspect a robbery is in progress, a quick inspection may be in order. Honeycomb that is torn open is a good indicator that a robbery is in progress. Robber bees get into the hive, grab the goods and get out as quickly as possible.


Robbing activities are serious and cannot be ignored. When they've concluded, you may have completely lost a weaker colony to death or swarming (if the bees were lucky enough to escape the marauding forces), and you may lose all your valuable honey.

Join us next time when we’ll look at what you can do to stop a robbery in progress and how to prevent them from occurring in the future.

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