CHAPTER XVIII Edit
ROBBER BEES - HOW TO PREVENT ROBBING Edit
THE energy that bees will display in robbing each other, also the alacrity with which they will pounce upon any honey or other sweets if left within their reach, is not after all an unmixed evil, as it shows their industry; and a few preventive measures will result in keeping it within bounds and prevent any serious consequences.
This tendency to rob prevails in all races of bees, especially if no honey is coming in from the fields, and is more pronounced in some races than in others.
The Italian bees especially are given to robbing, but be it said to their credit that they are more easily discouraged from it when attempts are made to break it up. The main danger when extensive robbing is under way, is that the robbers after cleaning up any honey that may have been left carelessly about, will proceed to pounce upon one weak colony after another, and will often clean them out completely, to say nothing of the viciousness of their tempers when robbing.
When a single bee has succeeded in stealing a load of honey from some weak hive, it seems to have some means of communicating that fact to the other members of its colony, for when it rushes out for another load it is invariably accompanied by some of its comrades, until literally thousands of bees are engaged in robbing.
With the bees no question of ethics is involved in robbing, as they seem to regard as legitimate prey any and all honey that is in their reach, and they will keep on stealing until means are taken by their keepers to stop it.
When honey is coming in from the fields there is little danger of the bees robbing, and extracting can be carried on in the open field without any precaution whatever; but as soon as the flow ceases the little rascals are ready to gobble anything at hand, urged thereto no doubt by the fact that they are in a state of enforced idleness and want to lay up as much honey for wintering as possible.
Until a case of robbing is well under way, it will often be difficult for the novice to detect it, as the little thieves will act in many ways similar to young bees taking a play spell flying before their hives ; but when the thing is in full operation, it is easy to recognize it at once, as the hive being robbed will have a large number of bees busily flying before it like a new swarm coming out, and the terrific fight going on on its alighting-board with the dead bees that have been killed in the fighting often as many as a quart will tell its own tale even to the novice.
Another method of detecting robbing is to watch the actions of the bees coming out of the hive suspected of being robbed; as the robber comes out it does not act in the leisurely manner of a bee getting ready to fly to the fields, but rushes out in a great hurry, and the distention of its abdomen will indicate that it is heavily loaded, whereas in thej case of a bee coming out for its flight to the field, the abdomen is empty and slim in appearance.
It is a good plan as soon as the flow of honey is over, and the weather not too warm, to contract the entrances of all hives; this is not so necessary in the case of strong colonies, but where they are weak it is absolutely essential and should not be neglected. Be careful about opening hives out of season, and keep their lids off only so long as is necessary ; above all, do not leave any honey or feed syrup about, for this will be only an invitation to robbing. Where queen-rearing is carried on, there is great danger of robbing, as the little mating nuclei are not strong enough to repel the invaders unless the entrances are small, and what is true of nuclei is also true of all weak colonies.
Frequent cases of robbing are started in the most innocent way imaginable by people's making preserves in the neighborhood without proper screens for the windows of the room in which the preserving is done; I know of one occasion when the bees drove a woman from the room and swarmed upon the sugar and syrup until it was all cleaned up, and it was not until night that the woman could get back. On the following morning thousands of the little thieves were on hand to complete the work and were only prevented from continued robbing because every window had been screened with mosquito netting during the night. As it was, many bees lingered about the windows all day, wondering why their rich repast had been interfered with.
I knew of another case where a good housewife was candying some peaches; the candied peaches were placed on a large tray on a shed to harden in the sun, and in a few hours some bees from a neighboring apiary had discovered them. Before night they had licked all the sugar from the peaches, leaving them as clean as they were before being coated with sugar syrup. The bees could hardly be blamed; if anywhere, the blame rested upon the housewife for not protecting the fruit with a screen, for common sense would have told her that there must be some bees in the vicinity that would take advantage of their opportunity. If the robbing is confined to one or two colonies, it will be a good thing to carry the colonies being robbed into the cellar in the dark, leaving them there until the following afternoon, when they can be set out again, and, with their entrances contracted, the damage can be stopped.
If the robbing is general in the apiary, or even if a single colony is being robbed, it can often be stopped by throwing an armful of brush at the entrance of the hive being robbed, for the robbers are a bit wary about working their way through the tangled mass, as they always want a rapid way of retreat. In this way the colony being robbed will be able to get over their demoralization, and can marshal and organize their scattered forces for a good resistance; and if toward evening the entrance to the hive is contracted it will have spent its course as far as that hive individually is concerned. Sprinkling the brush with cold water has a good effect upon the robbers, and they will often give up at once rather than run the risk of getting wet and being placed hors de combat. Frequently I have broken up a case of robbing by squirting kerosene oil on the front and on the alighting-board of the hive being robbed, and this has proved effective, because the robbers at once become suspicious of the strange odor. It must be remembered that a bee that is robbing is on the lookout continually for some trap to catch him in his piratical career, and their actions indicate the fear of being killed.
Sometimes a colony will be so completely cleaned out of its stores that it will be a wise thing to let the robbers finish their work at that hive rather than give their attention to others. At nightfall the cleaned-out hive can be examined, and if the queen is uninjured, and a fair amount of bees present, its entrance can be contracted so that only a bee or two can pass out at a time, and in a couple of days it can be built up with bees and sealed brood from strong colonies and no serious damage will have resulted.
A plain pane of glass laid in a slanting position in front of a hive that is being robbed will so confuse the robbers that they will give up in despair, but the kerosene, squirted on the front of the hive or on some brush or dried grass thrown in front of the hive entrance, is the best thing of which I know, and again and again I have nipped in the bud what promised to develop into a first-class case of embezzlement. Turpentine, or a weak solution of carbolic acid water, will work equally as well, and, when the robbed colony have a chance to rest over night, and recover from their panic, it is astonishing what a fight they will be prepared to put up the following day, When bees are in full swing of robbing they are liable not only to pounce upon a weak hive, but in all likelihood will sting everything and everybody in sight, including stock, and for this, if for no other reason, it is important to prevent robbing entirely, and if it is under way to break it up at once. If we were sure that the robbers were entirely our own bees, it might not be a great loss in honey, as the honey that was robbed will be transferred to other hives in the yard, but in all probability the robbers are from any and all hives within a radius of three miles, and no one cares to enrich the yards of a neighbor at one's own expense.
It is sometimes the course of wisdom to fight fire with fire, and to divert the robbers from the hive that is being robbed by exposing some combs of honey a little distance from the apiary, and the robbers will leave the hive they are robbing and devote their time to the exposed combs, as there are no bees to fight them. While they are robbing these combs, the hives in the yard can be attended to, and at night the combs can be carried into the house. In the morning it is amusing to see the clouds of bees hovering over the spot where the combs were given them the day before and wondering what on earth has become of their "Klondike."
If it were possible to do all our work among the bees during a honey flow, we should have no trouble from robbing, but unfortunately we have to do much work at other times, especially if we are rearing queens; but this difficulty can be overcome by using a small tent, made for the purpose of laths and mosquito netting, which can be set over the hive to be worked, and, as it is large enough to permit the operator to do his work, all operations can be carried on in safety. These tents are inexpensive and exceedingly light, and are a positive necessity in a well-regulated apiary of even moderate size, and the excellent results they accomplish, added to the peace of mind of the beekeeper, more than warrant the expenditure for them.
It must not be supposed from the foregoing that robbing is a terrible bugbear and a fatal thing to bee-keeping, for I can safely say that by the exercise of a little caution and the adoption of the preventive measures referred to I have not for ten years had a serious case of robbing in any of my yards, and a pound of prevention is worth a load of cure. Be careful when working out of the honey flow, and, when feeding the bees, not to let any of the honey or feed lie about, and in all probability you will never have a case of robbing that will amount to anything.