Nature teaches bees to forage for food and they consider as their own whatever they find, regardless of the means they use to obtain it. As soon as bees begin to fly in the spring, their search for food begins. They not only try to locate honey reserves, but often pay attention to syrups, jams, ripe fruits and other sugary substances to which they have access.
Bee colonies have little respect for each other when it comes to honey possession. They will try to steal as much as they can from another colony, especially when there is little nectar coming in. This exaggerated deviation of the pecorary instinct is called plundering.
Thus the smell of honey is a phenomenal stimulant of plunder. The smell of wax and propolis are also.
Paradoxically, it is often the strong colonies with the largest reserves that are most willing to steal the possessions of weak colonies whose guardians are unable to prevent the thieves from entering.
How to detect it
Robbing begins with the introduction of a few peccary bees into neighboring hives, continues with the arrival of new, agitated and noisy bees, recruited by the first peccary bees….
But sometimes the robbing is practiced with such disguise that it goes unnoticed. The bees do not enter the hive in large numbers, and no fights are observed. However, it is true that strange bees do enter the hive and constantly carry away the honey. They sneak in through the sides or cracks, pass by the guardians and the beekeeper can only observe them by meticulous scrutiny. This type of robbing, which is called progressive robbing, is difficult to control and is usually not even attempted.
Often, though, what appears to be a case of plundering is actually the bees going out through the entrance and flying around their own hive to clean up honey or syrup that may have leaked out of the crevices. Soon this task is over and with it comes the end of the commotion.
What can happen if the hives are plundered?
When it becomes so extensive that it is impossible to control, bees are more inclined to sting, especially when they have run out of the honey supply they were plundering. Robbing is linked to aggressiveness, even tame hives, when harassed by other bees, become upset and aggressive.
If plundering occurs between two apiaries that are somewhat distant from each other, it can result in the loss of many of the colonies that are being robbed. This ends up being a « battle to the death » between the invaders and the invaded. Within an hour, a quiet apiary can be transformed into a battlefield littered with thousands of corpses.
It is difficult for robbing to occur without handling the hives, so the main « culprit » is usually the beekeeper.
For example, it is a probable cause of robbing when, at the beginning of the nectar flow, the hives are put into the hives with frames of extracted honey still sticky. Therefore, the best thing to do is to organize to put away every year after the harvest the dry supers, without honey residues, thus avoiding the excitement of returning the honey impregnated supers to the hive.
The beekeeper would also provoke plundering if he abandons the frames with honey reserves outside the hives. And even when he harvests/feeds carelessly allowing honey or food to be spilled on the ground.
Idem if they handle the hives carelessly. Especially when excessive handling of the hives is carried out, especially after the harvest and at the beginning of the new season, when there are still no drones to renew the queen and the bees are predisposed to plunder.
On a side note, and continuing with the subject of external feeding, according to Antonio Gómez Pajuelo, the problem they have seen with external feeding with pollen dust has been that wild boars, Iberian pigs in mountainous areas and other animals have been coming to the pollen, and other animals came to the pollen that fell in the bees’ nipples (the pollen dust supplied is drier than the one collected in the flowers, and it does not compact so well in the bees’ legs, so it falls more easily), and they overturned hives, displaced them, etc., and so on. goes photo:
This means that more than robbing, external feeding could cause, in certain geographical areas, problems of another type that have a greater impact than the robbing itself like this one that Antonio shares with us.
How to prevent robbing
Fundamentally, it is necessary to avoid the predisposing factors and to avoid all the triggers of robbing:
- Handle with care, working quickly in the apiary. Avoid prolonged inspection of an open hive.
- Do not spill food or honey outside the hives. It is easy for a bag to break, or for the bag to be emptied due to unevenness of the hive.
- Never leave unattended frames with honey that are in the open air and that could be of reclamation near the apiary.
- Enclose the stretched frames in hermetic hives or supers.
- If feeding with syrup and honey, it is advisable to prevent this by narrowing the nests and above all by feeding at dusk, just at the end of the day.
- When plundering is prevalent, the entrances to the colonies should be reduced and any openings should be covered, through which the plunderers could gain entry.
- Start checking first the hives that are located in the apiary on the side opposite to the wind direction.
- Harvest quickly and preferably in good weather, in the afternoon or in the morning after the dew has lifted.
Weak colonies should be placed in a separate apiary. It is advisable to keep the nests small and to work these colonies with extreme care in order to avoid plundering.
It is advisable to always carry a bucket with water to clean the utensils used and the hands. Preferably use rubber gloves that can be easily washed.
If handling honey paintings, they should be placed on a stand with the lower part covered (for example with a lid turned upside down) and a damp cloth on top.