Robber bees are honey bees that enter the hives of other colonies and steal their nectar and honey. Typically, robber bees live in hives just like other honey bees and are an essential part of a colony.
So, if you’re wondering: “What are robber bees?” they’re essentially just worker bees, meaning that they are part of the female workforce of the colony.
Why Are They Called Robber Bees?
As their name suggests, robber bees steal honey and nectar from other colonies’ hives, essentially depriving them of their food supply.
Typically, robber bees enter weaker, more vulnerable colonies to take their food source and use it to feed their own colonies. It is actually an efficient method of ensuring that their own colonies remain strong enough to withstand adversity.
Why Do Robber Bees Rob Other Hives?
If their own food supply is limited, robber bees will steal from other hives. In general, worker bees work all season long to produce honey to feed their colony, but if nectar or honey becomes scarce, they enter the hives of weaker colonies to take their honey.
How Do Robber Bees Rob?
The robber bees first identify the hive that they want to rob by smelling the honey and pheromones left by other bees. The robber bees then fly together to the hive and begin searching for entrances.
It is typical for robber bees to look for all possible entrances in the weaker hive, as they don’t know where the proper entry point is. It is common to see robber bees swarming around the hive, looking for entry points through cracks and crevices.
A large number of robber bees attack a hive at the same time. Upon noticing the robber bees, resident bees begin to fight, often outside many entrances to the hive.
While some of the bees are fighting, other robber bees are entering the victim hive and tearing open its honeycombs in order to obtain honey. The robber bees fill their honey stomachs with honey, and then return to their home hive to store their newly acquired honey.
How to Identify a Robber Bee
In view of the fact that robber bees are simply worker bees of other honey bee colonies in an area, they can be identified by their similar appearance to other worker honey bees. Robber bees can therefore be identified visually by their hairy dark brown, oval-shaped bodies with yellow stripes.
There are, however, some key behavioral differences that can be used to easily distinguish robber bees from other types of bees.
Bees battling at the entrance of a hive is the first and most important sign of robber bees. Despite the fact that there is often a great deal of traffic around a hive’s entrance, robber bees can usually be identified by the many bees that are fighting and wrestling at the entrance.
In addition, robber bees will enter the hive of a weaker colony from any point they can find, rather than only from the entrance. Robber bees will be gathered around cracks in or between the boxes around the top.
The robber bee may also be identified by the absence of pollen on its legs and in its pollen baskets, while the members of the victim colony will have pollen as they carry out their usual foraging activities.
Additionally, robber bees may dip towards the ground when they begin to fly away from the hive under attack. It is due to the fact that they will be carrying a large amount of honey, which makes them heavier.
During robbing, the number of dead bees around the nest entrance and on the ground around the hive will increase. It is caused by the fact that both the robber bees and the bees belonging to the victim colony are killed in the fight for food.
How to Stop Robber Bees
Beekeepers can prevent robber bees by making the entrances to their hives smaller, so that weaker bees can better defend them.
There are entrance reducers available that make the entrance of a hive smaller so that it can be more easily protected from robber bees.
It is also possible for beekeepers to use a wet towel to prevent robber bees from entering weaker hives. You can simply hang the wet towel in front of the hive’s entrance.
Bees who live in the hive will learn how to get under and around the towel, while robber bees will be unable to avoid it and will hover in front of it.
Artificial rain can also be used to stop robber bee activity. Sprinklers can be set up to rain down on the victim hive, which will force the robber bees to return to their hives since bees do not like to forage when it is raining. In order to avoid the rain, the resident bees will simply reenter their hive.
Do Robber Bees Hurt Other Bees While Robbing?
During their robbery activities, robber bees do harm other bees. The robber bees often kill the bees in the weaker colony during robbery due to bees’ willingness to die to protect their colony’s food supplies.
When necessary, robber bees may even kill the queen of the weaker colony in order to obtain honey. In spite of the fact that this is somewhat less common than robber bees killing worker bees, it can still occur and is devastating for a weaker hive.
How to Prevent Robbing Bees
For beekeepers, the best way to prevent robber bees is to place honey bee hives far apart from each other, rather than in a traditional bee yard.
By placing hives closely together, competition for nearby nectar increases, and stronger colonies are more likely to rob weaker colonies. As well, if hives are very close together, it is easier for robber bees to enter a neighboring hive and steal honey.
As a result of keeping hives far apart, it also provides each colony with more access to its own area of flowers, thus ensuring a greater supply of nectar. Robber bees are unlikely to rob another colony if the colony has adequate nectar supplies.
In addition, feeding sugar water to bees during times of nectar scarcity is a great way to prevent the activity of robber bees. In many cases, bees rob other hives because they are starving, but if they are fed supplemental sugar water, they are less likely to do so.
How Long Does a Robber Bee Hive Robbing Last?
It is possible for robber bee hive robbing to occur for long periods of time, up to hours or days after the robbing behavior has begun. Robber bees attempt to extract as much honey from a hive as possible, killing many of the resident worker bees in the process.
Typically, robber bees are prepared to fight for honey for as long as necessary. Therefore, robbery behavior may continue until most or all of the honey has been extracted from the victim hive.
When Is Robber Bee Hive Robbing Most Likely to Occur?
The majority of robber bee hive robberies occur during periods of scarcity of nectar. When flowers begin to bloom in the early spring, then there is a frost or freeze that kills the flowers, robber bee activity is frequent. During the colder parts of early spring, beekeepers should be on the lookout for hive robbing activity.
In addition, robber bee hive robbing may occur during a drought when flowers are scarce. In the absence of water for a prolonged period of time, many flowers may die, thus reducing the food sources available to the bees. It may occur at any time of year in drier climates, but is most common during the summer months.
How Much Damage Can a Robber Bee Hive Robbing Cause?
A severe case of hive robbery by robber bees may result in the death of a weaker colony. Because robber bees attack and kill weaker bees in order to gain entry to their hive, hive robbing can result in large population losses for the victim colony.
In addition to killing worker bees, robber bees sometimes kill the queen of the weaker colony, causing the colony to collapse.
Without queens, colonies cannot survive for long, since queen bees are the only bees capable of producing more offspring.
In the best case scenario, robber bees result in extreme food losses for the weaker colony, which makes it much more difficult for them to survive. At worst, robber bees may wipe out an entire colony by killing off worker bees and even the queen.