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Dead bees in a package: how many is okay?

A beekeeper in the eastern part of the country sent me the following photo of a bee package that arrived after a five-day transit. He wondered if I would accept a package in this condition. I wrote my opinion, but then I decided it would be instructive to know how other beekeepers would react to receiving this package.

So please write and tell me, in your opinion, whether this package is acceptable or unacceptable. You can elaborate if you want, but you don’t have to. You can include the amount of experience you have, but it is not necessary. I’m most interested in your gut reaction.

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I will post my opinion and how I arrived at it later, but I’m hoping to get at least 25 other opinions first.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Bee-package-Charles-R
A package of bees received after five days in transit. Β© Charles Reed.

Comments

Hab
Reply

Yes, as long as queen is alive.

WesternWilson
Reply

I will be most interested to hear the replies Rusty, as this year I started selling nucs. All has gone well save for the last one. I make the nuc with a generous amount of bees, put it on the mother stand overnight to capture extra foragers, then seal it in the morning. The pickup kept getting delayed and it was a hot day. In spite of keeping the nuc in the shade, misting the top ventilation screen with water etc. there was a lot of heat kill to the stuffed bees inside. I learned NEVER to allow a delayed pickup, particularly on a hot day. And will change the entry seal to a screened affair rather than tape or foam. I should have opened the nuc up, and pushed pickup to the evening when they were all back in the box. However, I do not think the photo above shows a significant loss of bees, particularly given the 5 day transit (which is too long, IMHO). I would expect there to be a decent amount of dead bees in that time. If the package still has a queen and a good amount of bees, I would be happy, but it sure would help to put HRH onto drawn comb so she can start laying ASAP.

Mary P.
Reply

Yes, acceptable. I *believe* the rule of thumb is one inch deep or less of dead bees on the bottom. I have gotten 2 packages by mail – long trip from TN to MA – and had slightly less than that amount in photo. And one of my packages “disappeared” in the USPS system (even though it had a tracking number) and showed up 2 days late.

Norma
Reply

I’ve never had a package mailed to me, but that one looks acceptable after 5 days in the mail.

Bob Mallonee
Reply

If it was a 3 lb package I would turn it down. If a 4 lb package probably accept. But looking at the pic I think after 5 days in the heat you would probably lose them all. Would have to check queen also if they would let you do it. This is why I always pick up my bees.

Sherm
Reply

I got a package 2 weeks ago and there wasn’t a dozen dead bees in it.
But somewhere I read that it is not unusual to have an inch of dead bees in the bottom of a package. That may have been a misprint and seems excessive to me though!!
My thoughts on the subject are that the bees that come with the package are really only “service bees”. Their purpose is to get the colony set up. build comb and get the queen started laying eggs. They will bring in the initial food and water but will soon die as new bees take their place. That is the life cycle of the bee. So yes, they fill an important role in the beginning and the more live, healthy bees you get, help get the colony off to a good start. Will there be some dead bees? It depends on many things. Length of the trip, temperature, handling, etc. Truly it is best to buy local bees when possible. And all considered, Nucs are better!

Doug A.
Reply

This was the first year I have bought packages. I am in Virginia and they came from Georgia. I had very few, less than a couple dozen, dead bees in my packages. Not sure if that is usual or not. However, coming from Georgia to Virginia, it isn’t a very far distance. In the past I have bought nucs. Anything you can do to get local bees I think is the best course of action, although that is not always possible.

C Hart
Reply

I think it is acceptable, a reasonable fraction of loss given the long shipment period and warmer temperatures. I suspect we see less loss when temperatures are cooler in part because the bees are less active with a lesser urge to forage for food or water.

Rusty
Reply

Hey Everyone,

Lots of responses are coming in, which is great, but please try to answer the question! I love the stories but I need an opinion too: acceptable or not?

Victor Berthelsdorf
Reply

My gut reaction is that there still looks to be plenty of live bees in the package. They probably allowed for the mortality rate when they packaged them. This said, I have never received a package in the mail.

Andy Kingman
Reply

Unacceptable as disease may also be present as they have been unable to clear them out, why would you want to buy bees from that far away, use a local strain that would be used to the conditions, also not fair to the bees.

Holly Bayendor (via Twitter)
Reply

@HoneyBeeSuite If the majority & queen are still alive, don’t worry. Packaging is tough on bees, and bees only live a short time as it is.

John
Reply

Second year beek…

I accepted one with a five-day transit last year that had probably triple the loss. I didn’t know any better and the post office even tried to get me to not accept it.

At this point in my limited experience, I would say just based on this picture, “acceptable.” My understanding is a five to ten percent loss is the norm, but I’m very interested in what the more experienced beeks would say.

Rusty
Reply

John,

What happened with your package? Did it survive?

Gerry
Reply

I would reluctantly accept…as long as the queen and her attendants appear healthy in the cage.

Tom
Reply

Acceptable. I have accepted worse.
Bees don”t live long. I would accept that number of bees would die in 5 days.

Gregory Ramos
Reply

If this is what came through my own order, I would make sure the Q is still viable and give the hive a chance.

I order my bees for pick-up from a very reliable guy, and in that case I would just refuse to take an order that was half dead. But if they’re delivered, what can you do?

Anubis Bard
Reply

I’d accept it, without being thrilled about it. It’s more dead bees than I’ve gotten in my experience (with 8 or so packages), but it still looks like an ample swarm to me. Of course, getting bees from a local breeder would be much better, but it’s not always an option . . . .

Elaine
Reply

I’m fairly new to bee keeping…however, that doesn’t actually look like a lot of dead bees to me for the amount of time they spent in transit…as long as the queen is alive, all should be fine…and that is my humble opinion πŸ™‚

Scott
Reply

I don’t see a major loss in population. So, Yes, I would accept that package. The living bees seem to be clustered nicely which makes me THINK the queen is still alive. I would hive the package, close up the entrance for 2 or 3 days and feed with an internal feeder. If I then find that the queen is dead I would request a new one from the package supplier.

Then again, I have only been a keeper for 3 years. Lost my first colony to a robbing incident (that I sent photos of to this blog). And I have only bought nuc colonies. (this year I bought 2 and made robbing screens that I keep on all the time).

My robbing story … http://www.honeybeesuite.com/robbing-and-fighting-and-falling-in-clumps/scott-mathews-robbing-bees/

Joel
Reply

After 5 days in transit i would accept them.They will only make enough honey to maybe get thru the winter and he will have the winter die off and they will really get going in the spring.What about his Queen? Most sellers will replace the Queen if she did not make it. If he has more bee hives he can put in a frame of brood and replace the dead ones. Would not bee a problem for me.

chini
Reply

We can’t buy packages in Hawaii it- some rules against it. I think I would accept it because if you don’t accept it does it mean to they have to be sent back? Poor girls would all die. It seems like they’d have a good chance with recovery if you set them up nicely.

Reed Beatse
Reply

If it has been in transit for 5 days, then I would say that it is acceptable. Transit can’t be good for them and there are still a large number of bees. I caveat that to say that if the queen is dead, all bets are off!

Emilie
Reply

I wouldn’t accept that package and I truly cannot imagine any of the beekeepers who transport bees to our area trying to pass this off as acceptable.

Emilie
Reply

Sorry for the typos. I meant to say **none of the beekeepers in NH

Lisa Smith
Reply

I would probably accept it, but wouldn’t order another from there…I would also send them a notification on how it was delivered.

Gerry
Reply

I forgot to mention that one of the other reason’s why I would reluctantly accept is because if I refuse the package…they’re all probably as good as dead when they get back to the sender. I would at least give them a fighting chance. I must be getting soft as I get older… πŸ™‚

Steve
Reply

As an aspiring beekeeper I was kind of thinking along those lines, too. And yes, i’m also a bit soft as I’ve gotten older. πŸ™‚

Ivan Van Laningham
Reply

I don’t have a lot of experience, as I am a first-year beekeeper in Salt Lake City. I took delivery of two packages of carniolans in April, and I had maybe 5 dead ones in each package. I’m not sure how long they were in transit (I could find out if you’d like to know that too), but I was told to hive them in under 48 hours after I picked them up. If I’d had that many dead ones, I think I might very well have said no, I’ll wait until next year and get my bees somewhere else.

Lindy Lou
Reply

I do not think it is acceptable but I have no experience of getting bees this way. It would seem to me that it is a too long journey and the bees that are alive will be very stressed at what is underneath them that they cannot remove.

Anna
Reply

Hard to see/gauge, but if it’s about one to 1.5 bees’ body depth thick, I think that’s acceptable. If it was 2 bees’ body depth of dead bees, it might be too much. I think after 5 days, that looks pretty good. But I’ve never ordered a package.

Marian
Reply

I think you have to consider that the lifespan of a honey bee after hatching is about 6 weeks. So that’s 42 days. 5 days is about 12% of the lifespan of a honey bee. I think if the loss is less than 20% it should be acceptable.

Kris
Reply

That looks like maybe a few hundred bees. As long as the queen was alive I would be okay with it. Document it, let the company that shipped them know, and monitor the colony. If they die off shortly after installing them, then redress the situation with the company. Otherwise, I think they will be fine.

Scott B
Reply

Yes, I would accept it (as long as the queen was alive and healthy). I would mention the condition the bees arrived in to the person/company who sent the package (so they can take steps to make the journey easier on the bees). If you reject the delivery surely the remaining bees will die on the return trip.

David C.
Reply

Rusty,

I think I would concern myself more with the condition of the live bees rather than the dead ones. It appears as though he still has a significant number of live bees, and considering that they just went through a 5 day journey I don’t think the package looks that bad. The biggest consideration will be the condition of the queen, but that of course won’t be known until the package is hived. My opinion is to accept the package and hive it ASAP.

Audrey Glick
Reply

I have never received a package by mail. The only time I bought packages was my first purchase and since then I have bought local nucs. That said, my understanding is at packages are loaded with more than the number of bees ordered so that if some die in transit the beekeeper still gets what he or she paid for. It’s hard to see how many dead bees there are, but I do see lots of live ones. I would document the package with photos and notify the supplier, install the package and see how they do. If the colony doesn’t thrive, ask the supplier to replace or refund.

Castor
Reply

We don’t do packages in the UK in the same way, and I can’t see the rest of the enclosure, but after five days of travel, that level of mortality doesn’t surprise me – dependent also on the age of the bees in the package.

Shreve
Reply

That’s a tough one. I guess if that was a mail out and it took five days it could be worst. How ever I would not except that if I drove and picked it up the package or it was over night delivery. I will say that when I have bought packages in the past they came up from Georgia overnight and they never had that many dead bees.

Dionne
Reply

Gut reaction: that seems like a lot of dead bees.

I have no experience with packages, but if that was the first one I’d ever received, I would wonder if that amount was normal.

Honeylieg
Reply

I vote unacceptable. I am only a mason beekeeper and a novice at that. Given that bees have small life spans I would be hesitant about returning them. I would also be concerned about mites. Then there is the traveling conditions to consider. Perhaps a phone call to the service and an inspection for mites is in order. Then an introduction to their new home.

rose h
Reply

I’m a beginning beekeeper; I’ve purchased three packages of bees. These look really really good to me: the cluster is tight, the bees aren’t wet or wandering aimlessly, and only a few are dead. It actually amazes me that we are able to ship bees at all… I’d say accept this package and order from the supplier again.

rose h
Reply

Sorry, I meant to email this, not comment it…

Rusty
Reply

Rose,

Comments are better!

AramF
Reply

I would say after 5 days in shipping in the hot weather it is not unreasonable to see this. If I went to pickup from a local suppler, I’d would probably decline. I try to keep my shipping of queens to within 2 days. They arrive with all nurse bees still alive.

JK
Reply

Hi

Re: Dead Bees in a ….

In my opinion it depends on the agreement of the transit “was it buyer’s wish to be sent for such a long….?” and the way is packaged? was the ventilation enough?
Was the seller an experienced seller in such a way or was it their first time?

thanks
JK

donna berti
Reply

unacceptable!

Jeremy
Reply

Yes, accept it. A five-day transit is doomed to have bee loss. It is the responsibility of the beekeeper to also keep the bees safe. Ordering bees more locally would have been a better option. Shame on both parties IMO.

There is still a large cluster of bees and will likely do well.

2 years beekeeping. Owner of Honey company in Oregon.

Ken
Reply

Without any more information, I would say that this is an acceptable loss. Five days transit is a long time.

Diana
Reply

Acceptable; but I don’t have that many years of experience yet. (6, with only 2 overwintering).

Dave
Reply

I would accept it provided that the queen was viable. Different thought, though… Isn’t it a little late for a package?

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

I believe this occurred in April, but I just was told about it this week.

Bill Hesbach
Reply

Way acceptable- normal.

Anna S.
Reply

I would accept it. In my opinion, bees are not disposable items. If they still have a queen, I would keep a close watch on the colony and not attempt to extract any honey from it for the first year. If they don’t have a queen, one of my hives needs some extra bees …

Theresa
Reply

If I had ordered that package expecting a 5 day delivery then that ratio or dead to live bees would be acceptable. If the package got hung up in the system and took 5 days instead of an expected 2-3, then I would not accept the package.

Blanche
Reply

Speaking as a novice:

If the queen was still alive and looked ok, i’d accept it, record the state of the bees with still and video documentation, and after installing the package I’d go over the dead bees, with a magnifying glass if needed, to see if there were any worrisome signs of problems ahead. I’d contact whoever sent it to me and let them know – is it “lots died in transit, the rest of the package is fine, you might consider if your shipper is careless” or a cautionary “the bees are OK but I noticed…” whatever would be appropriate to pass along. It looks like a lot more are alive than dead.

Steve
Reply

I think it is borderline. Most reputable package sellers shake 3.5 lbs in a 3 lb package. I’m leaning toward okay.

Micah
Reply

As a beekeeper AND a (part time) package bee hauler, that’s an acceptable amount of loss for a 5 day transit. The bigger question is why was it 5 days? I haul out of California and deliver to everywhere in the Midwest, making deliveries in less than 2 days (typically to the distributor within 36 hours). Add another day to arrange for package pickup, but 5 days? Too long.

BruinnieBear
Reply

After a five day transit, I’d say there’s nothing to complain about. I’ve had worse with 2-day transfer.

I live in the middle of the country and have seen thousands of packages. You’re shipping live animals and they have who knows what to tolerate.

This is what I call complaining about being hung with a silk rope.

Dennis Steadman
Reply

Not acceptable! I’ve never seen more that just a few dead bees in any package I’ve received. That was definitely excessive.

Peter
Reply

Yes, I would accept it. Queen will make more bees.

Gary
Reply

acceptable

Nancy Celani Baker
Reply

Acceptable for 5 days in transit. I would prefer no deaths, but you/we do not know how old the bees were when packaged. Undoubtably some died of old age, some of shipping stress. However those that survived are the strongest, and that’s what you want to start your hive.

Chef Gigi
Reply

Wow Rusty, I only have a few seasons under my belt and all my bees ( 4 hives 3 were caught- swarms ) have died ! I have one hive left and at least three hundreds of bees dead on the floor each week! I would certainly be ALARMED accepting this package ! I know im jaded in this decision cause i deal w Bee death more than anything else – but come on! Not only did u pay for them but who knows what kind of stuff they are carrying! I don’t trust commercial bee keepers unless they are small and we can get on a first named basis ! Imma food professional and weary of corporate bee keepers! Especially after watching the Documentary Queen of the Sun!
I live in California – although I don’t live in central California where all the Almond growers are – I do see lots of cross-contamination and lots of cross diseases coming in during the Almond pollinating season! This drives me crazy! Who knows what sickness these bees have – 5 days? Wow! ! Send them back! #PoorBees

Michael
Reply

Too many dead bees in my opinion. Looks like they got too hot and also from the lack of bees on the bottom of the can, it may be clogged. The entire package is probably severely stressed and starved. Unacceptable.

Kristina Williams
Reply

Acceptable. Not great, get them into a hive ASAP. Lucky there are any live bees after 5 days in transit, about 3 days too long.

Bill Chaffey
Reply

Rusty,
I think this package looks pretty good considering five days of transit. so yes I would take a chance on them.
The ones my chapter took this year had at least two inches of dead on bottom,,,which a large percent of us lost our package within the first two weeks…BUMMER..

Laurie Allen
Reply

acceptable, if queen is alive. I am a new bee keeper, and small clusters are better than no bees. : )

Kim
Reply

What choice is there? You can’t send it back without killing the rest of them. I’d keep it and inform the sender and the carrier service.

Pennie
Reply

No, I would not accept it. I am a new beekeeper this year and the first two packages I received looked exactly like this one. I lost both packages within the first 18 days.

I then ordered one package from another source entirely. Very few bees in that package died during transport and the colony is doing quite well.

Lesson learned, that’s for sure.

Jeff b
Reply

To me this is not desired but after 5 days I feel it’s acceptable. As long as the queen is still good they are doing their job of protecting here. Not much different than a very cold winter night.

Bear Creek Steve
Reply

~20 years of beekeeping experience. I have never seen that many dead bees on a timely delivered 3# package. Thus unacceptable. However, if the ordering beekeeper knew when he ordered that the bees would be in transit for 5 days, I think that he should be happy that there are so many live bees, and it would be acceptable to him. If it is no later that mid summer and the queen is alive and healthy, there are plenty of bees in that picture to get the colony through the winter with a bit of care on the part of the beekeeper. Of course he will not be able to harvest honey from them this year.

Vince
Reply

After shipping for 5 days I would say that is very acceptable. If it were shipped overnight I would say no.

Stephen T.
Reply

Hi Rusty. I am from Oklahoma and I have a 3200 gallon Koi pound. About half of my fish were purchased from California. The fish were delivered overnight and yes I pay extra. Every fish I have bought arrives in excellent condition. The point is that bees intransit for 5 days is too long and it’s not good for the bees or the buyer. Sellers give the bees a break.

Kathleen
Reply

That looks about how many my last shipment had on the bottom. I accepted them, because it is inevitable that you will have some die in transit. My bee’s have done nicely since I received them in May. So, yes, I think it’s acceptable.

Steve R
Reply

Looks acceptable, if more than I would like to see.

Mark Cameron
Reply

I would first look at the volume of live bees remaining. If the supplier added a larger amount of bees then yes, I’d accept. Also, did that amount of bees die because they ran out of syrup in transit, maybe that was what happened. Again in that case I’d still accept. If possible I’d like to maybe shake them lightly sideways to see if it was a heavy mite count that killed off a bunch, and in that case, no, I would not accept.

Rick
Reply

Accept–13 yrs experience. It would be better than the additional waiting time for another package I wouldn’t be too happy, but after 5 days this would probably be an expected amount. I don’t get packages in the mail; I pick them up from sellers who picked them up less than 48 hours earlier from the supplier. My best package experience: this year, one only had 5 dead bees. Last year was worst: seller had over 100 packages where most of the bees died overnight. He refunded the money, no problem. Except for that I’ve never gotten one where the dead bees covered the bottom.

Elizabeth H.
Reply

Yes, I would keep it.

Colin Priestley
Reply

Just remember that they only live for 6 or 7 weeks. So for every 10,000 bees in the package with an expected life span of 49 days you would expect to see up to 200 dead bees daily.
Also the packaged bees may not be a true cross section of a normal hive and may contain more older bees so the mortality rate may be even higher.
Not sure how many you bought but for 5 days the pictures look about right.

Renaldo
Reply

Doesn’t look like way too many dead bees. Enough to worry about, I think. There is always some loss. However, 5 days shipping strikes me as excessive. Too much time on the road. Given the option, I would reject the delivery based on that alone. We cancelled a package this spring because they (an otherwise reliable supplier) couldn’t make delivery until June. By June in western Oregon, much of the nectar flow is over.

Victor Berthelsdorf
Reply

If I may elaborate a little on my previous answer which you can delete:

Although it’s a little hard to tell from the photo how many bees are dead or alive, my gut reaction is that there still looks to be plenty of live bees in the package and that this would be acceptable after a five day trip. They probably allowed for the mortality rate when they packaged them. I have seen large screened crates being made up locally for shipment to Alaska to be then scooped into packages. It’s not like they package only young bees. There are all ages and a percentage would die in five days even if the package was sent over night. This said, I personally have never received a package in the mail as there are plenty of local bees available around here..

Christy
Reply

No, not acceptable. Nothing about this in my opinion is acceptable. The amount dead is horrible, the fact they needed to travel for 5 days is unacceptable. My first thought when seeing the picture was “Eww”.

Martin Reed
Reply

I wouldn’t accept this

Diana Taekema
Reply

Acceptable, taking into consideration the duration of transport, which will be an added stressor, as well as the given fact that bees have a limited life span and are continuously replaced.

Emily
Reply

I’ve never ordered a package, but the bees in this look in better condition than some photos I’ve seen of packages which have arrived with half the bees dead on the floor.

My opinion is starting to be that buying/selling packages is unfair on the bees and buying nucs is the way to go. The travelling must be stressful, particularly without any combs to rest on. A lot of people who buy packages seem to have problems in the weeks following installing them too, such as losing queens or having colonies absond, though some of that could be down to inexperience.

Mary Kay
Reply

I would accept it as long as the queen appears to be healthy and intact. From what I can see it is a bit worse for wear than my first package but still seems to have enough bees. The poor things need a good home and with care and lots to eat will build up fast.

Cindy Buck
Reply

Acceptable. 5 days in transit is hard on the bees!

Helen
Reply

I dont keep bees, my husband does, we live in the UK, most sites I have come across selling bees, nucs, will only sell if the bees are collected, except for queens, which can be posted. Admittedly our country is considerably smaller than yours. It would have been more helpful to see the size of this “package” to judge dead versus alive bees. Its not a pretty sight but if the queen is alive and the rest are healthy then yes, there is always some die off, but then if they have disease….
I would keep them and nurse them back to health, poor things, dont agree with sending them when it takes so long for them to arrive, whats the other option, take another 5 days sending them back, thats immoral !

Gavin
Reply

It depends… is the queen dead? And you aren’t gonna send them back, then they are all dead.
I don’t understand that you order bees and the transit takes 5?? days.
If you were sent to the other part of the world and you have to sit 5 days in a box without light, fresh air and with so much stress…imagine.
Don’t order such things, go and find a local beekeeper who can help you.

Bil Harley
Reply

hi Rusty,
I’ve never bought a package but I would be shocked and disappointed to see them in this condition.

t.a.
Reply

Don’t believe I would accept. I would call the company and ask for replacement but in my opinion, many die on way back to their origin. Conditions probably too warm for transit

Gene Rinke
Reply

acceptable…….. My first year keeping bees two packages arrived all dead! They were sprayed at a post office when a forklift damaged some boxes and they sprayed the pallet in a panic

James
Reply

Giving the life of a bee, 5 days in transit, I’m surprised it’s not more.
All in all I’ve seen worse, but in answer to your question, yes it would accept it.
The bigger question is 5 days in transit? They are on the east coast? That I wouldn’t accept. Did buyer order from supplier close to them?

Tom Allen
Reply

Yes, probably. I have not had this number of dead bees in a package before, but have seen many more dead in a nuc I received my first year. (5 years now) Really need to verify that the queen is alive though!

Jim Groff
Reply

Not acceptable

Linda
Reply

It’s not acceptable because they are now weak (5 days in transient does a number on them) and nature seems to know when there’s something weak because attacks immediately start in. First other bees, then ants etc.

Nancy
Reply

Hard to judge from an image, but it looks like 2 layers of dead bees at the bottom, and the remainder appear lively, from the way they are festooned at the top. I would say “acceptable.”
But – I would let the supplier know, install the package and then let the supplier know how they do.
I heard of a situation in which a Southern supplier packaged up bees one night but did not insert feed cans till the following day. About half the colonies failed within 2 weeks of installation.
There is a strong push in our region for buying local bees or at least local queens. You might consider surveying reader experiences about this.
Thanks!
Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Northern Kentucky

karine
Reply

Yes acceptable

Amanda
Reply

Five days shipping (not counting beginning time of being packaged) with a can of sugar water and a couple sprays will not suffice as far as feeding goes, so there will be dead bees. Thats a long time to be confined for any creature and not everybee gets to eat. Mine were starving. I realize this year after buying twice that i may not buy on account of the way its done. Especially shipped. Even the package i went to pick up had many dead bees. More than i care to see.

Eric Franklin
Reply

I am not an experienced beekeeper, but some questions arise, and can be analysed, even with the little knowledge I have. After that, of course, the discovery of the true facts remains to be done – but can then be accomplished more rationally and reliably. A schema can be set up, admittedly starting from a position of ignorance, (science always does start there) but based on logic, and understanding of scientific method, to investigate further, and so find the true answer.

First my gut reaction: I would NOT want to accept that package of bees – but I would ask WHY it is in the state illustrated.

FACTS: Workers have a life of only a few weeks, so SOME – a relative very few – will be dead on arrival. (As soon as the colony is happily installed somewhere, living workers will be seen pulling out the FEW dead bees.)

TO BE INVESTIGATED: Was the package properly handled in transit? Were the bees left without water? Were they knocked about? Were they deprived of air (eg by a misguided attempt to protect them from cold by covering the colony too closely with an impermeable sheet? Were they brought into contact with (say) fumes of any kind, eg an air freshener, a vehicle exhaust, disinfectant, or fumigant, or was there deliberate sabotage? (A few humans really are capable of that.)

Is there disease now showing itself, even if the colony was despatched in an apparently healthy state? IE, did a disease develop during the five days of transit? Did bad conditions during transit act synergetically with an incipient disease to weaken the resistance to disease of a large number of bees?

I am sure theere are further questions – and some of you will have answers, or at least, further information with which to pursue the answers.

Kind regards to you, Rusty, and all your correspondents. You certainly do very good service to fellow beekeepers, and the whole world.

Eric Franklin (in Wales, United Kingdom).

TR
Reply

First let me state that I am a newbe. It is my understanding through the research over the last year and a half, that it is normal to see some loss during the shipment of bee. 5 days seems a long time. I purchased my bee through two sources; one was the bee keeping club that I joined the other a local supplier of equipment. I would think that for a package to be unacceptable, the loss would be in the range of 1/3 to 1/2 of the package. Would like to see what others think about what would be acceptable loss.

Susan McCloskey
Reply

Hi, rusty–yes, I would–and did, just this past June, though not without misgivings. In fact, I think there were even more dead bees in my package.

Pat
Reply

I received packages this spring in similar condition and both packages were completely dead and gone within 4 weeks. After this experience, I would be hesitant to accept these bees without talking to the provider at the pick-up and gaining some assurance of bee health. So not acceptable.

This is my 3rd year of keeping bees. A friend provided a swarm for me so I am back in the bees for now – YAY!

mary k
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Although all details of this event are certainly not good, I would accept & try to get the bees setup best as possible.

Chelsea (via e-mail)
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Hi Rusty,

I am a newbie beekeeper. Gut reaction says that package would be fine.
But I’m sure I’d be disappointed at the condition of it.

Thompson Valley Bee Farm (via Facebook)
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100 bees a day as losses looks worse in a small package after 5 days. It would probably be better to find a closer supplier of packages. I would accept this package because the losses are close to average. As long as the queen looks good along with several thousand bees a great colony could still result.

Brandon McAnally (via Facebook)
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I would have. 5 days in transit is almost 1/3rd of their lifespan.

Sheree S-d (via Facebook)
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New beek here. An inch of bees is a lot of dead bees. But if I look up, I see a huge ball of live bees. This looks like a very generous package. If the queen looks good, I think this is a great package. Temps are very high right now on the East Coast, I’m sure the trip was rough. Get those ladies into a hive and let them go!

Pennie
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I lost the first two packages I ordered this season. They came from the California almond groves. I don’t know how long they were in transit to Colorado. But the third package I ordered, from a small, family-owned business in Tennessee, arrived in less than 48 hours from time of shipment to time of arrival at the post office. They were calm and healthy and are doing fine. The post office clerk told me that they treat live products such as bees and chicks as priority mail and get them to the destination within 48 hours via ground transportation.

So although I answered in an earlier post that I wouldn’t accept packages in this condition, I would now say I would take them to see if I could save them. But I would be looking for a better source of bees for the future.

Amanda
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I feel as of this year, after my experience with purchasing a 3 lb package from Mann in Pa. which did not make it and a new 3 lb package from a local man who drives from Georgia and brings them back asap (they were still starving and at least a third were dead), that the system of bee selling needs to be reconsidered and rethought. I will not purchase unless local from now on.

Pennie
Reply

I know this thread is moving away a bit from the original question, but I’m wanting to know more about nucs vs packages. A fellow beekeeper named Amanda, and some others whose names I forgot, are talking about needing to rethink how bees are sold. I agree wholeheartedly. This first experience of mine has opened my eyes to a lot of complexities I hadn’t known about.

If it is appropriate to this thread or perhaps a new one, Rusty, I’d love to hear more about nucs vs packages vs swarms. I get the swarm/local purchase argument for sure. But I’m wondering, doesn’t it make a difference if one is getting bee packages from beekeepers who take their bees all over the place as essentially migrant workers, versus getting them from a small business that is striving to breed the best bees possible to increase the bee population?

Chantal Chopin
Reply

It is not acceptable to purchase or sell bees in a package. I was shocked to hear that they traveled for 5 days. It is such a long time. I don’t think that people should be allowed to sell bees in a package, it is cruel. I am not surprised that many died.

Also, don’t bees purchased in a package come from different hives? Aren’t they fighting with each other?

Rusty
Reply

Chantal,

Bees in packages come from many different hives. They do not fight because no one is defending their home hive.

Chantal Chopin
Reply

Further to my former email, I think that there seem to be many bees left which are alive. 5 days in transit is a very long time for bees and it is inevitable that many would die. Anyhow, I would not have the heart to send them back. That would kill them all. So, yes, I would accept them but I don’t support packages and I would not think of buying packages. I am trying to catch swarms or I would buy a nuc. I have been beeking for 3 years.

Michael Lowe
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Looks a bit worse than the three I received (all of which later did well). If the queen is still alive and appears well, I would take it.

I would comment that contracting documents need to be consulted.

Richard Vezina
Reply

It looked acceptable to me.

David S
Reply

Packaging bees is the industrialisation of beedom. It’s intensive farming and treats the bees as a commodity. Much better to buy a nuc and collect from the originator and inspect at point of purchase. I wouldn’t accept the package because I wouldn’t put myself or bees in that predicament.

WesternWilson
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I known there is a lot of anti-package sentiment out there, but if, thanks to demand and supply, you have to ship bees, packages are the way to go. It is very hard to ship a nuc without killing queen, bees and brood, even a short way, particularly in warm weather. The nucs I use have two screened holes in the top (one for a feeder jar) and a travel screen over the door, and on day long transfers plus there is still peril. There are GOOD reasons to have to ship packages. Here in Canada we do not have a robust bee breeding industry and are reliant on package imports from New Zealand. The packages are cleverly constructed tubes with screened caps on either end, and have a strip of webbing hanging from the top cap to which is attached the queen in a cage. This allows for ventilation and clustering so the bees are not piled together and smothering, and the bees are held and shipped at cool temperatures. Advantages of packages are: no brood = no or low varroa and a built in brood break. The bees also metabolize their starting tummy contents so should metabolize an AFB or EFB bacteria/spores in their guts by the time they arrive. Depending on your medication position you may want to add a bit of health insurance by dosing them with fumagillin and/or oxytet upon arrival. Packages permit exchange of genes across long distances, preventing limited local gene pools. I know my local gene pool could use some more variety. So I would not write off packages. And local nucs can be just as sick as any. I have learned to be very wary of nuc source as many of the big operations medicate prophylactically (which suppresses AFB but does not kill the spores, and suppresses EFB but may not kill the bacteria in the comb and equipment), and raise in high stress operations. Those nucs can require a lot of tlc at best. So it all comes down to who is supplying the bees and what their practices are.

John Payton
Reply

Yes, I would accept the package from USPS, however I would contact the company who mailed and let them know how the package arrived (good/bad/queen alive…) I would not believe the company should accept responsibility for their arrival status though.

I am a first year beekeeper, but have listened to many beekeepers for a year and read many books and much research before investing in the hardware, and finally deciding on starting a colony.

I strongly believe that the best way is to show patience and only receive bees from a local source…however, if time (or whatever reason) dictates that a package of bees be sent through the mail, then the customer should be well aware of what they are purchasing and the stress and many other variables that could happen during shipment are understood.

Maria
Reply

I’m a fairly new beekeeper. Have never had a package sent by mail. Our club picks up the packages in the spring. However, I would accept this package so long as the queen was in good shape. I would want to give those ones who were alive a chance. I imagine, they would be able to build up the numbers with a healthy queen.

Sharon
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I had a package sent to me via USPS. It was in transit from Tues. a.m. to Wed. @ 6 a.m. when I picked it up. There was an 1.5 inches of dead bees and when I opened it the queen was also dead. Apparently the box had some rough handling as the can of sugar water was empty. I assume it was left in hot truck and had been shaken or tipped so all liquid was drained. The Post Office said “too bad,” the shipper made it good but rather than shipping via Postal Service, we drove 500 miles to Maine and back and lost only 3. I was very lucky to have such an understanding, accommodating supplier.

Fuco Scatenato
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I would accept it with no controversy.

Steven
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I would accept that package if received by mail. If I were picking up in person from the seller (and I usually do) I would look around and ask for a better one.

Rusty
Reply

Steven,

Good answer.

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