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Bees are exceedingly prone to rob each other, and unless suitable

precautions are used to prevent it, the Apiarian will often have cause

to mourn over the ruin of some of his most promising stocks. The moment

a departure is made from the old-fashioned mode of managing bees, the

liability to such misfortunes is increased, unless all operations are

performed by careful and well informed persons.

Before desc
ibing the precautions which I successfully employ, to guard

my colonies from robbing each other, or from being robbed by bees from a

strange Apiary, I shall first explain under what circumstances they are

ordinarily disposed to plunder each other. Idleness is with bees, as

well as with men, a most fruitful mother of mischief. Hence, it is

almost always when they are doing nothing in the fields, that they are

tempted to increase their stores by dishonest courses. Bees are,

however, much more excusable than the lazy rogues of the human family;

for the _bees_ are idle, not because they are indisposed to work, but

because they can find nothing to do. Unless there is some gross

mismanagement, on the part of their owner, they seldom attempt to live

upon stolen sweets, when they have ample opportunity to reap the

abundant harvests of honest industry. In this chapter, I shall be

obliged, however much against my will, to acknowledge that some

branches of morals in my little friends, need very close watching, and

that they too often make the lowest sort of distinction, between "mine

and thine." Still I feel bound to show that when thus overcome by

temptation, it is almost always, under circumstances in which their

careless owner is by far the most to blame.

In the Spring, as soon as the bees are able to fly abroad, "innatus

urget amor habendi," as Virgil has expressed it; that is, they begin to

feel the force of an innate love of honey-getting. They can find nothing

in the fields, and they begin at once, to see if they cannot appropriate

the spoils of some weaker hive. They are often impelled to this, by the

pressure of immediate want, or the salutary dread of approaching famine:

but truth obliges me to confess that not unfrequently some of the

strongest stocks, which have more than they would be able to consume,

even if they gathered nothing more for a whole year, are the most

anxious to prey upon the meager possessions of some feeble colony. Just

like some rich men who have more money than they can ever use, urged on

by the insatiable love of gain, "oppress the hireling in his wages, the

widow and the fatherless," and spin on all sides, their crafty webs to

entrap their poorer neighbors, who seldom escape from their toils, until

every dollar has been extracted from them, and as far as their worldly

goods are concerned, they resemble the skins and skeletons which line

the nest of some voracious old spider.

When I have seen some powerful hive of the kind just described,

condemned by its owner, in the Fall, to the sulphur pit, or deprived

unexpectedly of its queen, its stores plundered, and its combs eaten up

by the worms, I have often thought of the threatenings which God has

denounced against those who make dishonest gains "their hope, and say

unto the fine gold, Thou art my confidence."

In order to prevent colonies from attempting to rob, I always examine

them in the Spring, to ascertain that they have honey and are in

possession of a fertile queen. If they need food they are supplied with

it, (see Chapter on Feeding,) and if they are feeble or queenless, they

are managed according to the directions previously given. Bees seem to

have an instinctive perception of the weakness of a colony, and like the

bee-moth, they are almost certain to attack such stocks, especially when

they have no queen. Hence I can almost always tell that a colony is

queenless, by seeing robbers constantly attempting to force an entrance

into it.

It requires some knowledge of the habits of bees, to tell from their

motions, whether they are flying about a strange hive with some evil

intent, or whether they belong to the hive before which they are

hovering. A little experience however, will soon enable us to

discriminate between the honest inhabitants of a hive, and the robbers

which so often mingle themselves among the crowd. There is an

unmistakable air of roguery about a thieving bee, which to the observing

Apiarian, proclaims the nature of his calling, just as truly as the

appearance of a pickpocket in a crowd, enables the experienced police

officer to distinguish him from the honest folks, on whom he intends to

exercise his skill.

There is a certain sneaking look about a rogue of a bee, almost

indescribable, and yet perfectly obvious. It does not alight on the

hive, and boldly enter at once like an honest bee which is carrying home

its load. If they could only assume such an appearance of transparent

honesty, they would often be allowed by the unsuspecting door-keepers to

enter unquestioned, to see all the sights within, and to help themselves

to the very fat of the land. But there is a sort of nervous haste, and

guilty agitation in all their movements: they never alight boldly upon

the entrance board, or face the guards which watch the passage to the

hive; they know too well that if caught and overhauled by these trusty

guardians of the hive, their lives would hardly be worth insuring; hence

their anxiety to glide in, without touching one of the sentinels. If

detected, as they have no password to give, (having a strange smell,)

they are very speedily dealt with, according to their just deserts. If

they can only effect a secret entrance, those within take it for granted

that all is right, and seldom subject them to a close examination.

Sometimes bees which have lost their way, are mistaken by the

inexperienced, for robbers; there is however, a most marked distinction

between the conduct of the two. The arrant rogue when caught, attempts

with might and main, to pull away from his executioners, while the poor

bewildered unfortunate shrinks into the smallest compass, like a cowed

dog, and submits to whatever fate his captors may see fit to award him.

The class of dishonest bees which I have been describing, may be termed

the "Jerry Sneaks" of their profession, and after they have followed it

for some time, they lose all disposition for honest pursuits, and assume

a hang-dog sort of look, which is very peculiar. Constantly employed in

creeping into small holes, and daubing themselves with honey, they often

lose all the bright feathers and silky plumes which once so beautifully

adorned their bodies, and assume a smooth and almost black appearance;

just as the hat of the thievish loafer, acquires a "seedy" aspect, and

his garments, a shining and threadbare look. Dzierzon is of opinion that

the black bees which Huber describes, as being so bitterly persecuted by

the rest, are nothing more than these thieving bees. I call them old

convicts, dressed in prison garments, and incurably given up to

dishonest pursuits.

Bees sometimes act the part of highway robbers; some half dozen or more

of them, will waylay and attack a poor humble-bee which is returning

with a sack full of honey to his nest, like an honest trader, jogging

home with a well filled purse. They seize the poor bee, and give him at

once to understand that they must have the earnings of his industry.

They do not slay him. Oh no! they are much too selfish to endanger their

own precious persons; and even if they could kill him, without losing

their weapons, they would still be unable to extract his sweets from the

deep recesses of his honey bag: they therefore begin to bite and teaze

him, after the most approved fashion, all the time singing in his ears,

"not your money," but, "your honey or your life;" until utterly

discouraged, he delivers up his purse, by disgorging his honey from its

capacious receptacle. The graceless creatures cry "hands off," and

release him at once, while they lick up his spoils and carry it off to

their home.

The remark is frequently made that were rogues to spend half as much

time and ingenuity in gaining an honest living, as they do, in seeking

to impose upon their fellow-men, their efforts would often be crowned

with abundant success. Just so of many a dishonest bee. If it only knew

its true interests, it would be safely roving the smiling fields, in

search of honey, instead of longing for a tempting and yet dangerous

taste of forbidden sweets.

Bees sometimes carry on their depredations on a more magnificent scale.

Having ascertained the weakness of some neighboring colony, through the

sly intrusions of those who have entered the hive to spy out all "the

nakedness of the land," they prepare themselves for war, in the shape

of a pitched battle. The well-armed warriors sally out by thousands, to

attack the feeble hive against which they have so unjustly declared a

remorseless warfare. A furious onset is at once made, and the ground in

front of the assaulted hive is soon covered with the dead and dying

bodies of innumerable victims. Sometimes the baffled invaders are

compelled to sound a retreat; too often however, as in human contests,

right proves but a feeble barrier against superior might; the citadel is

stormed, and the work of rapine and pillage forthwith begins. And yet

after all, matters are not nearly so bad, as at first they seem to be.

The conquered bees, perceiving that there is no hope for them in

maintaining the unequal struggle, submit themselves to the pleasure of

the victors; nay more, they aid them in carrying off their own stores,

and are immediately incorporated into the triumphant nation! The poor

mother however, is left behind in her deserted home, some few of her

children which are faithful to the last, remaining with her, to perish

by her side, amid the sad ruins of their once happy home!

If the bee-keeper is unwilling to have his bees so demoralized, that

their value will be seriously diminished, he will be exceedingly careful

to do all that he possibly can to prevent them from robbing each other.

He will see that all queenless colonies are seasonably broken up in the

Spring, and all weak ones strengthened, and confined to a space which

they can warm and defend. If once his bees get a taste of forbidden

sweets, they will seldom stop until they have tested the strength of

every stock, and destroyed all that they possibly can. Even if the

colonies are able to defend themselves, many bees will be lost in these

encounters, and a large waste of time will invariably follow; for bees

whether engaged in attempting to rob, or in battling against the robbery

of others, are, to a very great extent, cut off both from the

disposition and the ability to engage in useful labors. They are like

nations that are impoverished by mutual assaults on each other: or in

which the apprehension of war, exerts a most blighting influence upon

every branch of peaceful industry.

I place very great reliance on the movable blocks which guard the

entrance to my hive, to assist colonies in defending themselves against

robbing bees, as well as the prowling bee-moth. These blocks are

triangular in shape, and enable the Apiarian to enlarge or contract the

entrance to the hive, at pleasure. In the Spring, the entrance is kept

open only about two inches, and if the colony is feeble, not more than

half an inch. If there is any sign of robbers being about, the small

colonies have their entrances closed, so that only a single bee can go

in and out at once. As the bottom-board slants forwards, the entrance is

on an inclined plane, and the bees which defend it, have a very great

advantage over those which attack them; the same in short, that the

inhabitants of a besieged fortress would have in defending a pass-way

similarly constructed. As only one bee can enter at a time, he is sure

to be overhauled, if he attempts ever so slyly to slip in: his

credentials are roughly demanded, and as he can produce none, he is at

once delivered over to the executioners. If an attempt is made to gain

admission by force, then as soon as a bee gets in, he finds hundreds, if

not thousands, standing in battle array, and he meets with a reception

altogether too warm for his comfort. I have sometimes stopped robbing,

even after it had proceeded so far that the assaulted bees had ceased to

offer any successful resistance, by putting my blocks before the

entrance, and permitting only a single bee to enter at once: the

dispirited colony have at once recovered heart, and have battled so

stoutly and successfully, as to beat off their assailants.

When bees are engaged in robbing a hive, they will often continue their

depredations to as late an hour as possible, and not unfrequently some

of them return home so late with their ill-gotten spoils, that they

cannot find the entrance to their own hive. Like the wicked man who

"deviseth mischief on his bed, and setteth himself in a way that is not

good," they are all night long, meditating new violence, and with the

very first peep of light, they sally out to complete their unlawful


Sometimes the Apiarian may be in doubt whether a colony is being robbed

or not, and may mistake the busy numbers that arrive and depart, for the

honest laborers of the hive; but let him look into the matter a little

more closely, and he will soon ascertain the true state of the case: the

bees that enter, instead of being heavily laden, with bodies hanging

down, unwieldy in their flight, and slow in all their movements, are

almost as hungry looking as Pharaoh's lean kine, while those that come

out, show by their burly looks, that like aldermen who have dined at the

expense of the City, they are filled to their utmost capacity.

If the Apiarian wishes to guard his bees against the fatal propensity to

plunder each other, he must be exceedingly careful not to have any combs

filled with honey unnecessarily exposed. An ignorant or careless person

attempting to multiply colonies on my plan, will be almost sure to tempt

his bees to rob each other. If he leaves any of the combs which he

removes, so that strange bees find them, they will, after once getting a

taste of the honey, fly to any hive upon which he begins to operate, and

attempt to appropriate a part of its contents. (See p. 304.) I have

already stated that when they can find an abundance of food in the

fields, bees are seldom inclined to rob; for this reason, with proper

precautions, it is not difficult to perform all the operations which are

necessary on my plan of management, at the proper season, without any

danger of demoralizing the bees. If however, they are attempted when

honey cannot be obtained, they should be performed with extreme caution,

and early in the morning, or late in the evening; or if possible, on a

day when the bees are not flying out from their hives. I have sometimes

seen the most powerful colonies in an Apiary, either robbed and

destroyed, or very greatly reduced in numbers, by the gross carelessness

or ignorance of their owner. He neglects to examine his hives at the

proper season, and the bees begin to rob a weak or queenless stock: as

soon as they are at the very height of their nefarious operations, he

attempts to interfere with their proceedings, either by shutting up the

hive, or by moving it to a new place. The air is now filled with greedy

and disappointed bees, and rather than fail in obtaining the expected

treasures, they assail with almost frantic desperation, some of the

neighboring stocks: in this way, the most powerful colonies are

sometimes utterly ruined, or if they escape, thousands of bees are slain

in defending their treasures, and thousands more of the assailants meet

with the same untimely end.

If the Apiarian perceives that one of his colonies is being robbed, he

should at once contract the entrance, so that only a single bee can get

in at a time; and if the robbers still persist in entering, he must

close it entirely. In a few minutes the outside of the hive will be

black with the greedy cormorants, and they will not abandon it, until

they have explored every crevice, and attempted to force themselves

through even the smallest openings. Before they assail a neighboring

colony, they should be sprinkled with cold water, and then instead of

feeling courage for new crimes, they will be glad to escape, thoroughly

drenched, to their proper homes. Unless the bees that are shut up can,

as in my hives, have an abundance of air, it will be necessary to carry

them at once into a dark and cool place. Early next morning the

condition of the hive should be examined, and the proper remedies if it

is weak or queenless should be applied; or if its condition is past

remedy, it should at once be broken up, and the bees united to another


I have been credibly informed of an exceedingly curious kind of robbing

among bees. Two colonies, both in good condition, seemed determined to

appropriate each other's labors: neither made any resistance to the

entrance of the plundering bees; but each seemed too busily intent upon

its own dishonest gains, to notice[26] that the work of subtraction kept

pace with that of addition. An intelligent Apiarian stated to me this

singular fact as occurring in his own Apiary. This is a very near

approximation to the story of the Kilkenny cats. Alas! that there should

be so much of equally short-sighted policy among human beings;

individuals, communities and nations seeking often to thrive by

attempting to prey upon the labors of others, instead of doing all that

they can, by industry and enterprise, to add to the common stock. I have

never, in my own experience, met with an instance of such silly

pilfering as the one described; but I have occasionally known bees to be

carrying on their labors, while others were stealing more than the

occupants of the hive were gathering, without their being aware of it.