Robber bees are regular honeybees that engage in robbing behavior. They invade and steal honey from weaker hives to ensure their survival.
In this article, we’ll learn more about bee robbers and bee robbing as we discuss the following:
- What is bee robbing?
- Why does bee robbing happen?
- When does bee robbing happen?
- How do robber bees rob?
- How to identify robber bees
- How to stop and prevent robber bees
What is Bee Robbing?
Bee robbing refers to the act of bees invading and stealing resources from another hive. It’s done by the aforementioned robber bees. These bees overpower weak hives and steal their honey. They fight resident bees, fill their honey stomachs with the loot, and head home. 
Why Does Bee Robbing Happen?
Bee robbing is a result of competition over resources. Honeybees are opportunistic foragers. They take all the food they can from wherever they can get them. Other hives are a treasure trove of food and other resources to them. Robbing these hives is a matter of survival.
When Does Bee Robbing Occur?
Bee robbing tends to occur during times of scarcity. This is usually around early spring or fall when there’s nectar dearth or absence of nectar. During these times, bees can take flight and forage yet there are no blossoms to collect nectar from. Hence, they rob other hives for honey.
With all that said, bee robbing can occur anytime. Weak hives may be robbed and preyed on throughout the year.
How Do Robber Bees Rob?
Robber bees start by scouting out hives through the smell of honey and pheromones. When they find their target, they swarm to it to find entry points. By doing so, they elicit a response from the resident bees that try to defend the hive.
Fights then ensue. Robber bees employ aggressive tactics such as biting and stinging to gain entry to the hive. Once inside, they quickly locate and steal the honey. They fill their honey stomachs and slowly make their way back home to store their newly acquired honey.
Do Robber Bees Hurt Other Bees While Robbing?
Yes, they do hurt other bees in the process. As mentioned, robbing leads to fights as resident bees try to defend their property. These fights then result in physical injuries and even the death of some individuals. In fact, dead bees around the hive entrance are one of the indicators of bee robbing.
Robbers may also sometimes kill the queen bee. This can lead to the collapse of the colony as only queens can produce offspring.
How Much Damage Can a Robber Bee Hive Robbing Cause?
Robber bees can cause fatal damage. Aside from physical harm, they can also transmit parasites and diseases.
For example, infected robbers may transfer Varroa mites to other colonies. These mites are notorious parasites that weaken and kill honey bee colonies. They transmit viruses that lead to diseases like chronic bee paralysis. They, along with other parasites are one of the leading factors of bee decline. See this article to learn about bee decline and why bees are endangered.
Additionally, robber bees can further weaken already weak hives. They will continue to rob a source until it is totally depleted. Without any resources, these hives will eventually collapse and die out.
How to Identify Robber Bees
Robber bees share the same physical features as their victims. After all, they are honey bees as well. Thus, to identify them, you’ll have to look at behavior instead.
- Here are common signs of robber bees and bee robbing:
- A high number of bees flying around and actively scouting the hive or apiary. They’ll be examining cracks and seams for possible entry points.
- Bees fighting and wrestling around the hive entrance.
- A number of dead bees in front of the hive or around the hive entrance.
- Presence of wasps that are attracted to dead bees and honey.
- Noisier hive due to heightened activity.
- Wax comb and debris under the hive or colony.
- Bees that appear shiny and black due to hair loss from fighting.
- Robber bees will sway side to side as they wait for their chance to enter the hive.
- Robber bees don’t have pollen on their legs.
What to Do if Bee Robbing is Occurring at Your Hive
It’s hard to stop robber bees when they get going. That said, there are a few things you can try to help your hive. They are as follows:
- Eliminate the stimuli. Remove easy-to-access honey and sugary substances so as to not attract robbers. Cover exposed honey and syrups.
- You can also use strong-smelling compounds. These compounds mask the smell of the beehive and confuse robber bees. Examples include Vicks Vaporub, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. Just keep in mind that these affect resident bees as well.
- Close colonies and plug openings in vulnerable hives. You can, for example, use grass to reduce openings while allowing for airflow. Doing so also makes it easier for guard bees to defend the colony.
- For intense robbing, close off entrances completely using a robbing screen or hardware cloth. Keep the hive closed for a few days until the robbers give up.
- If all else fails, relocate the affected hives. Keep them somewhere else until they regain their strength.
You may use a smoker while trying out these methods. While smoking isn’t effective in stopping robbers, it can serve as a temporary deterrent and keeps them at bay while you work.
How to Prevent Bee Robbing
As with many things, prevention is better than cure. It’s easier to prevent bee robbing than it is to stop it. To do so, you essentially follow the same steps as before.
You’d want to keep things clean. Clean or cover up any spilled honey to prevent other bees from noticing. Again, honey can attract other bees and lead robbers straight to the hive.
You’d also want to cover up any cracks or holes in the hive. You can also make use of security add-ons like entrance reducers and screens. This helps prevent robbers and other unwanted visitors from entering the hive.
If you maintain different colonies, make sure to keep them at uniform strength. Otherwise, you’d want to move weaker colonies to a different location.
Summary: What are Robber Bees?
To summarize, robber bees are honeybees that engage in robbing. They steal honey and resources from weaker hives, particularly during nectar dearth. They can cause significant damage and leave their victims good as dead.
Hence, it’s important that you keep these robbers in check if you want to keep your hives healthy.