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UPS Tightens Policy for Bee Shipments

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!

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That’s terrible!
Good to know - I have only picked up bees within driving distance but I will keep this in mind for the future.

Oh Claire, what an awful trip your poor bees had and so anguishing for you! I liked your post because as terrible as the journey was, you certainly did an amazing job nursing them back into a state of health & I’m sure they are loving their new home :hugs:

Plus, it’s great info for all of us to read - thank so much for posting!

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@claire_c
Sorry to hear that. We just got our 2 nucs this weekend. Although it was a pain and expense, we drove 600+ miles each way to pick up our bees and bring them home. We installed them in the hives last night, and this morning they were doing orientation flights. Today, they are already bringing in pollen.
We put Bee Pro patties + and syrup in the hives when installing. Seems they are off to a good start.
We drove so far because the supplier, for the location where we were to pick up the bees originally, did not commit in time. The next location available was a long drive. We could have picked up some bees closer, however, I was set on getting VSH bees.
It was an interesting road trip. We were in an extended cab pickup. Due to extreme storm in the region, we hauled the nucs in the cab. Of course, we wore our bee suits (with the veil hanging ready behind our heads) while traveling. About 2 or 3 dozen bees found their way out of one of the nuc boxes. Fortunately, the mesh bags served their purpose and the suits were never needed. :+1:t4:
Of course, we spent more money than planned. They had a closeout sale on some items. We got about $300-400 worth of equipment for $100 !

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That sounds like a good road trip!

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@claire_c
It was !
Beautiful country !
We picked them up at Kelley Beekeeping in Clarkson Kentucky. In the springtime.
It was a long trip, but, beautiful scenery.

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I had a similar experience to Claire. Package arrived in a Bee Bus that had split open. Probably only 1.5lb of bees in it when it arrived, and they were 80% dead. Food container empty, and blue/green friable jelly on the bottom of the cage. Queen was dead too. UPS driver was outstanding. Very empathic and brave about bees in the temporary mesh bag that had been placed around the Bee Bus by somebody.

Mann Lake very quickly refunded the package and said that they were looking into the problem. As Claire says, I think it will be very difficult in future to get bees shipped. Most shippers - UPS and USPS now seem to place difficult restrictions on livestock shipments. We may all be forced into local pickups in the future, which is a shame. I have had excellent bee shipments from Mann Lake in the past, but this wasn’t one of them. At least they gave me a refund. All the more reason to have at least 2 hives, friends! :blush:

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That’s a long drive to pick up some bees, however my wife & I also had the pleasure of driving through Kentucky during the spring time. The scenery IS beautiful. We did a detour to visit the Jim Beam factory, that was interesting.

One thing we couldn’t help but notice while driving through Ky. was that the grass had a tinge of blue. It was almost instant, as soon as we crossed the state line.

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@Dawn_SD
For the last month or two, I have seen a lot of similar stories. I’m glad I picked mine up.
Both of my nucs consumed about 2-1/2 quarts (each) of syrup in the first 24 hours.
Looks like quite a few larvae in the trays. Maybe the colony got a little dehydrated in the nuc boxes between the time the supplier locked them down and when I got them in the hives.