I received my first shipment of bees this week and learned first hand why UPS has imposed tight restrictions on shipments of live bees. But before we go into that, let me tell you what happened.
To make a long story short, I waited on pins and needles for two days because the messages I was receiving from UPS kept moving the delivery window further out. I noticed that the tracking info in my UPS account didn’t match what was happening (or not happening) on the ground. It struck me as strange.
So when the UPS truck finally pulled up in front of my house, I ran out to meet the driver in my bee suit (not B-suit as in birthday suit, and not the bee costume my grown kids imagine I wear).
“Do you have my bees?”
But the expression in his eyes told a different story. He wanted to talk and what he described was a scene straight out of a B horror movie.
“They were flying all over inside the truck and I didn’t know that bees can chew through cardboard. So I put it in a plastic bag and sealed it up with tape.”
My beautiful little Italian bees had been on the road for two days without anything to drink and they did what anyone would do.
I thanked him for doing his best to deal with the situation and lifted up the box by the criss-cross of tape on top, trying to avoid the bees that were stuck under the adhesive. The box was much lighter than I expected it to be.
I had built an enclosed apiary that can house two hives, and took the box inside and closed the door behind me. Bees flew out as soon as I cut through the plastic bag and opened the box. Inside was a white plastic crate covered on three sides with bees that had managed to escape. I sprayed them with sugar syrup and it was clear that they were thirsty.
I had trouble opening the crate and called the company for help. Although it was still normal working hours on the west coast, I got an answering service and my call was never returned.
When I removed the feeder can, it was empty, dry, and full of bees. I shook them into the hive and pulled out the queen cage. It was covered with bees trying to tend to her, and she seemed to be in good shape. I replaced the cork at the bottom of her cage with a marshmellow, and hung it on the side of the center frame. Then I shook the remaining bees into the hive. They fell in a clump, and I realized later that many of them were dead or dying.
I leaned the crate against the hive opening and added a shim to make room for their feeding area. Then, placed a freezer bag of sugar syrup on top of the frames, carefully slit it with a razor blade, and placed a pollen patty next to it. So I closed things up for the night and hoped for the best.
I checked on them from a distance the next morning and saw a lot of bees flying around the yard and zooming in and out of the apiary. Late this afternoon I gave them a new bag of sugar syrup. The first bag was nearly empty, and most of the bees were huddled around the queen cage. I saw bees dragging the dead out of the hive and flying away with them. I figure that I lost about a third of my bees, but it looks like they’ll recover.
So what went wrong here? Well, first of all, there was a big crack in the plastic bee bus where the bees made their getaway in the UPS truck. Because UPS no longer allows liquid feeders in bee packages, they were thirsty. And because UPS no longer allows ground deliveries longer than one day, they had been on the road for twice as long without adequate food. There was some blue glop – what’s it called – ambrosia or fondue (or something like that) – that might have originally been in the feeder cup. Oh yeah – fondant. So they did have some nourishment, but not enough for 3,000 bees on a two-day road trip from hell.
On January 1, 2021, UPS implemented new Requirements for Acceptance of Live Bees.
As of 1/1/2021, UPS will no longer accept, for transportation via Air services, shipments of Package Bees, but will continue to accept via Ground service where the time-in-transit of the shipment from origin to destination ZIP codes is no greater than one day. Shipments of Queen Bees, with their attendants, will continue to be accepted for Air and Ground services where the time in transit between origin and destination ZIP codes is no greater than one day. You can check times in transit at UPS.com/CTC.
My bees apparently fell through the cracks, or quite literally crawled out, in any event. The company I bought them from said that what happens during shipping isn’t their responsibility. I begged to differ and they eventually gave me a full refund, which I appreciate. The truth is that I would much rather have paid for a good first bee experience. But I also learned that I have what it takes to be a keeper of bees.
There are still unanswered questions, but I’m ready to move on. Next time I’ll find my bees someplace where I can pick them up myself!