Yep, you read that right, robbers! Robbing is something I had no idea I’d need to be concerned about as a beekeeper. Bees from other colonies attempt to rob weak and/or new colonies of their honey stores. Robbing season usually begins in mid to late summer, and/or during droughts. Feeding bees can also encourage robbing, this is why I cover my top pail feeder with a box, it helps reduce the potential for robbing.
In early July, I noticed more activity than usual happening in front of my Verbena colony. It kind of looked like the bees were fighting! At first, I didn’t think much of it until it happened for a few days in a row. I looked up robbing in my beekeeping books, Googled “bee colony robbing”, and I found this short video.
Thankfully, the robbing I observed outside Verbena seemed minor compared to that video, but I did not want it to turn into a full out robbing frenzy! The next day I reduced the entrances to the smaller opening for both colonies. Later that weekend, my husband made robbing screens to fit over the front of both colonies.
I’ve read that if the robbing continues after those preventative measures you may need to completely close off the entrance and cover the colony with a wet sheet. The wet sheet simulates rain, and encourages the bees who live in the colony to go inside. The robber bees won’t be able to figure out a way in because it’s not their colony.
The robbing screen was easy, and inexpensive to make. He found this video and built a similar version for my colonies. We had some extra wood around the house, so the only thing we needed to buy was the screen material. It was easy to find at our local Ace Hardware store, and cost about $3. He measured the width of the colony entrances and they were a perfect fit! These pictures show him making the screen, and the finished product.
I was able to easily slide the screens in front of the reduced entrances. Here’s the screen installed on Verbena colony.
The screen keeps the robber bees from gaining easy access to the entrance, and it gives the guard bees extra help to protect the colony. From what I understand, robber bees sometimes have a different flight pattern, they fly straight into the colony because they aren’t familiar with the exact location of the entrance; or they crawl near the edges of the hive looking for an unguarded entrance. Initially, the bees were confused on how to access their entrance but within an hour most had figured it out.
I haven’t noticed any robbing behavior since installing the screens two month ago, so our $3 screens were a success! This item seems to be a “must have” for a beekeeping. If you prefer not to make your own, Brushy Mountain sells robbing screens for eight or ten frame colonies. If you’d like to read more about robbers, I found this short article with some interesting details.