If you’re reading this and you haven’t read Robbing can teach us about honeybees or Robbing – 2: What do you do? you might want to start there. Just to summarize, last time I came home from work to a robbing episode. Two colonies were being selectively targeted for robbing while one feral colony was left alone.
The robbers looked different than my packages from Kelley’s Beekeeping Co. in 2010. They were closer in coloration and size to 1005, the feral colony from the barrel cutout. I’ve read that robbing bees are usually older foragers and can appear darker because of hair loss. The difference was greater than some missing hair. They were phenotypically different. They were darker in color, and noticeably smaller in size. Where where they coming from? I sat down on the ground and observed the horizon. Soon I could see the course of incoming and outgoing bees and had a bearing on the source of activity. All traffic pointed toward one corner of a woods about 1/2 mile South-East of the home apiary. After reducing entrances, I went to the woods and found the colony by sound. They were in a tree BUZZING with excitement and definitely NOT getting robbed. It was like a raucous party celebrating the plunder of their competitors.
I believe this is playing out every Fall among the feral population. This is why the feral population somehow overcame varroa. Better adapted colonies, out-compete those lesser suited to the niche. It keeps the Feral Reserve lean, finding the solutions to adaptation in the environment. That’s why it’s a great source for your bees! The Feral Reserve is hanging with the challenges of today. Those are the lines YOU want for tomorrows struggles. When less adapted colonies are “snuffed out”, cavities are vacant for the following Spring’s swarms. The robbed resources are insurance for better adapted colonies to overwinter.
Bees are brutally efficient, just look at what they do to drones every fall. No beekeeper can eliminate robbing events or stop bees from purging drones in the fall. These are natural processes (provided you didn’t cause the robbing event). Even when robbing is aborted by our intervention, the chances of a colony making it through winter are decreased after being targeted. A colony being poorly suited and unable to defend itself, is a cause of robbing. Robbing activity is a symptom of a colony in trouble. Even if you stop a single event that colony will continue to face pressure. It was targeted for that reasons. You’re spending time by treating the wrong “problem” and THAT is inefficient. To be successful in beekeeping efficiency must be maintained.
Turning my problem into a solution – Permaculture
It was not the end of the world, but this problem got the gears spinning in my head. Luckily I had recently become acquainted with Permaculture. In my reading and podcast listening I appreciated the idea of reevaluating possible resources and forming a method based plan prior to engaging in a pursuit. Going back to Langstroth’s time, it’s been known, the best way to prevent robbing is to have strong colonies. This event taught me THREE things and led me to some conclusions that shaped my beekeeping direction.
- My purchased bees were on the receiving end of robbing. (They were NOT strong colonies. That was a waste of money!)
- The feral sourced colony was not robbed. (This was a STRONG colony, with little $ invested. I need more bees like THAT!)
- There were feral colonies in nearby trees robbing my poor performers. (They were STRONG and they were free in the environment. I need more bees like THAT!)
Given these observations, it was NOT a failure of the “Hive Location” to support honey bees. This happened because the feral bees were more suited to the environment after generations of living in the trees. They had the colony strength to go take what they wanted. These ferals are living in mono-crop zones where it is hard for bees to make a living. Their method is brutal efficiency. They are well suited to Eastern-Indiana’s climate and pest pressures, because if they weren’t they wouldn’t persist in the niche. The idea that bees as a naturally occurring resource, may NOT BE scarce, but prolific and well adapted had me looking at this robbing event with big plans for the future.
If you can’t beat em.. acquire em
This one incident was a major trail-head to the path that I have followed in Beekeeping. A robbed out colony will have brood comb in it. This is your YIELD from a robbed out hive of honeybees. It is NOT A TOTAL LOSS. If salvaged before being destroyed by moths, brood combs can be used to bait SwarmTraps and CatchBoxes. If there are feral robbers trouncing your hives target the robbers with traps! You will get better return on time invested trapping local bees than “protecting” import stocks from hundreds of miles away. Your goal as a beekeeper is to acquire an All-Star Lineup of colonies then let them do their thing. The last thing you want to are losers on your team. Even if you have money invested in your bees, a weak colony is a weak colony. We know what happens to colonies like that without human intervention. Hive-ware with weak colonies are a liability so why keep them around? Boxes with strong colonies are an asset, that’s what you must have.
Good animal husbandry decisions lead to success
As humans we do some messed up stuff and call it compassion. Being involved in healthcare and animal husbandry has shown me that keeping an organism alive is not always a compassionate act. There is no Hospice in nature, or in Beekeeping, and I think we should keep it that way. Beekeeping was once a profitable agricultural endeavor everywhere it was practiced. Even if you aren’t doing this for money, you will QUIT if ya don’t perceive some yield. Look at a colony being robbed out by more suited competition as a “compassionate act of nature”. Like culling of drones in fall it seem like brutal insect behavior, but it prevents colonies from lingering into the winter months with no hope of making it through. The goods from a robbed out colony increases the chances for others to overwinter. The robbing colonies also do us a favor removing honey and drying combs so they can be more easily stored for later trapping activities. Robbers keep us from wasting time feeding, treating, and worrying about lines that are doomed without us anyway. The next time you see a colony being robbed, ask yourself, “could I have seen this coming?” Is that colony worth saving, feeding, and fretting over? Wouldn’t beekeeping be more fun if that hive equipment was full of bees that didn’t need you anyone agonize over them?
I know this is not typical robbing talk, but WHAT DO YOU THINK?
has this changed the way you view robbing?
If not why?
Any other questions?