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CHAPTER XV Edit

ROBBING IN THE APIARY

A CAUSE OF DEMORALISATION

THE moral law seems to be as potent among the bees as among men, and if the law be broken there is a moral penalty attached. Nothing demon- strates this more fully than robbing in the apiaries, for as soon as it begins utter demoralisation ensues. All legitimate work is stopped, and all the energies of the bees are devoted to ill-gotten gain and in fighting with each other, or attacking anything or anybody that comes near them. One of the signs of this demoralisation is that robbing makes the bees very cross. The experienced bee-keeper can detect robbing by the angry humming which prevades the apiary, which is a sound as different from the ordinary contented hum of the working bee as mar- tial music is from a pastoral symphony.

WHY BEES ROB

Bees rob for the very human and natural reason that the stores gathered by the hard work of others are coveted and are more easily stolen than earned by labour. When dealing with bees we must always remember that the interest of the individual centres in its own colony, and that it has neither love nor devotion to any other colony, nor to bees in general; indeed, quite otherwise. Endowed with an instinct almost fiendish, bees seem to understand when another colony is weak or discouraged, and, there- fore, offers a legitimate field for plunder. Strong colonies are seldom robbed, as they are able to drive out and kill the thieves; but the weak colony is a constant temptation to ill doing, and should be carefully watched and guarded.

WHEN BEES ROB

This occurs usually when there is little honey to be found in the field. Satan provides mischief for the idle six feet and four wings quite as efficiently as for hands. At the end of the honey-harvest there may be a general temptation throughout the apiary to break open vaults of precious stores belonging to others, and escape with the contents. At the close of the honey season strong colonies usually have plenty of sentinels to guard the entrance and look after suspicious strangers. Never at any time should honey-comb be left open around the apiary, for it always leads to robbing. It seems to suggest to the bees that honey gathered is a much more desirable product than that worked for in the fields.

Sometimes when preserving or pickling is going on in the house the bees start to rob the kitchen; and while they may be deterred by screened windows, yet the smell of the sweets may so excite them to desires for forbidden wealth that they seem to become discontented with the grind of daily toil, and so begin robbing their neighbours.

HOW THE ROBBING IS DONE

The robber, unless she be hardened by success, alights on the threshold of the hive which contains coveted stores with an air that is decidedly apolo- getic, having the general appearance of a prospecting dog with his tail apprehensively between his legs. She shows her guilty conscience by dodging back if she meets one of the legitimate owners coming out of the hive; she is thus trying the skill and prowess of the sentinels, for if by assuming bravado she can pass the sentinels she is usually safe; then she has nothing to do but to fill with honey and to run the gauntlet of the sentinels again, for perchance some of them may stop her and ask her why she is going out of the hive filed with honey, a proceeding altogether reprehensible in the bee world. If she succeeds in carrying back to her own hive the honey thus stolen, she creates great excitement there and soon she leads back a mob to pillage; and the air is full of bees bent on wickedness. Mr. Root describes graphically the successful robber thus: "A bee that has stolen a load is generally very plump and full, and as it comes out has a hurried and guilty look; besides it is almost always wiping its mouth like a man who has just come out of a beer shop. Most of all it finds it a little difficult to take wing as bees ordinarily do because of its weight." As a consequence a robber bee borne down with its load of sweetness is likely to crawl up the hive a little way so as to have the advantage of a high place to "jump from" as it takes wing. The virtuous worker comes out of the hive slim and depleted of her load and flies off leisurely to the field, while the robber comes out stuffed full and furtively climbs up the side of the hive in order to be able to be off.

We usually detect robbing in our apiary by the fighting which we observe about the entrance; when we see a pair of workers rolling over and over with each other in the grass near the hive we know that one of them is a robber, but as we do not know which one we are obliged to apply the test meted to the knights of old, and believe that the one who survives is in the right. However, we take measures at once to defend this hive. Also if we discover the bees to be particularly cross some day, we look about to see what has aroused their ire, and nine times out of ten find that robbing is the cause of their ill temper.

HOW TO STOP ROBBING

Contract the entrance to the hive being robbed. To do this we place blocks in front of it, leaving only enough space so that one or two bees can pass in at a time. The robbers having to enter in single file attract the attention of the suspicious sentinels and are either driven back or killed at once. It is unsafe to close the entrance entirely, unless it is done with a wire screen, for the bees within will smother unless the air is admitted through the entrance. It is always well to keep the entrance of the hive which contains a weak colony or a nucleus somewhat con- tracted as a measure of insurance. If contracting the entrance does not stop robbing, Mr. Root advises strewing long grass about the entrance which he wets thoroughly. The robbers are too wary to try to rob after they have wet their "feathers" in passing through this grass; for thus handicapped they could hardly escape from their enraged victims; while the robbers already within the hive after having thus to crawl out will hasten home to get their clothes dry. Mr. Doolittle uses a common sheet which he places over the hive that is being robbed, while Mr. Miller places over the victimised hive a bee tent of mosquito netting, which has a hole in the top which permits the robbers to escape.

A bee tent is a most useful adjunct to the apiary; there are many times when it may be used, but it is especially useful in preventing robbing. It is simply a tent made of mosquito netting large enough to be set over the hive and the operator. When opening the hives at midday the tent is used to pre- vent the robbers from attacking the exposed stores.

Mr. Root advises working at nightfall when bees are cross or given to robbing; but most bee-keepers declare that the bees will crawl all over one at night, and are no more to be gotten rid of than a porous plaster, at which Mr. Root promptly responds, "Do not stand near the lamp."

Enterprising men exchange places of the robbers and victims, which produces a confusion that restores quiet. The robbers come back to the weak colony laden with its own stores and join it and help fight off intruders; while a strong colony of robbers is quite capable of defending itself.

Another 'clever trick practised in Europe is to place some disagreeable, strong-smelling substance on the bottom board of the hive that is being robbed; wormwood, musk, carbolised paper, are used for this. The odour disconcerts the robber unless she is lost to all sense of bee decency; and if she does steal honey from such a hive and returns home her doom is sealed; for although in the bee world the way of the transgressor is not always hard, the way of the citizen that smells differently from her sisters leads to her murder and sudden death.

If a robber colony has almost completed its nefarious work, some people believe that it is best to let it make a clean job, and thus become satisfied there is no more plunder to be had, else the robbers will hunt other hives for depredation. The bee memory seems to be very good, and if the robbers have not cleaned up all the honey which they remember is there, they hunt for it elsewhere. We could never bring ourselves to a frame of mind to permit this calmly, though it seems like sensible advice. Robbing makes us so indignant that we refuse to allow the spoils to the victor.

Bees are certainly very clever, and they are able to learn. The old and successful robber soon reasons it out that where the bee-keeper with a smoker belches forth annoying fumes, there are to be found open hives ready for robbing; such bees will follow the operator from hive to hive, taking their tithe from the helpless colonies. For such robbers as these a way to appease them is a device for letting them rob where they can do little damage. Unsal- able comb partly filled is put in hives or supers piled up. These are ventilated by having a wire screen above, the cover lifted, and the entrance contracted so that only one bee can pass in and out at a time. This keeps the robbers busy and happy and out of the way, and the process is called "slow robbing."

Some apiarists remove the robbed colony to a cellar for a day or two until it can recover its communal courage.

BORROWING

When a colony is queenless, or for some reason has no brood, it often allows the robbers to come and go at will, as if it had found life worthless anyhow, and that there was no use in struggling. It seems possessed of the sort of pessimism which leads to stoic recklessness. This can usually be stopped by giving the plundered colony a queen and brood; as soon as the bees find they have something worth while to live for and fight for they are mightily heartened and offer a brave defence.

WHAT BECOMES OF THE ROBBED COLONY

Some of the bees are adaptable, and when they lose courage in defending their own stores they turn about and help carry these stores to the hive of the robbers, which they join, thus swearing allegiance to a new flag. Others, more loyal, will cling to the old empty comb, cluster there, hopeless and despairing until they die of starvation.

MAXIMS TO PREVENT ROBBING

Be sure that the bees are robbing, before applying remedies.

Keep the colonies strong.

Keep watch of the hives in early spring and late fall when there is no honey coming in.

Leave no honey or loose comb open around the apiary under any circumstances.

If bees are determined to rob when the hives are opened by the operator, it is best to work under a bee tent or after nightfall.

Robbing demoralises the whole apiary. If the bees are cross, look out for robbers.

Be very careful in uncapping not to let the bees get a taste of the chyle food, as that makes them very cross and wild to rob.

Keep Italians.

Do not let the colony become queenless, as a queenless colony is legitimate prey for many depredators.

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