A friend of ours has set up his own apiary and had ordered a package of bees by mail.
I admit it seems strange to ship bees by post, but it’s actually quite common. In fact, I just looked it up, and there are several animals you can get by mail, including scorpions. Yikes! Why would anyone want to ship a scorpion?
Anyway, the bees were shipped Priority Mail from a company in Kentucky. Our friend chose this company because he wanted a Russian queen.
Russian bees are a less common variety, and apparently this company ships them.
His package arrived today. It’s pictured below — photo courtesy of our friend. The can in the middle is the bees’ food (sugar syrup).
For comparison, below is a picture of the bee package we got last year.
Notice anything different?
Our bees were clustered around the can of food, so thickly you couldn’t see the can.
His bees were on the bottom.
That’s because they were dead.
When the postal workers called our friend for pickup, they asked something to the effect of, “You ordered bees. Shouldn’t they be delivered alive?”
Okay, I did exaggerate a little about them all being dead. The queen (who he named Olga) was alive, along with her attendants, and when he sprayed the bees on the bottom with sugar water, about thirty came back to life.
The reason the rest of the bees were dead was because someone put the food can in upside down, with the holes on the top of the bee bus, facing outward, where the insects couldn’t reach it. The poor creatures went without food or liquid for the three or four days it took for them to arrive. Unsurprisingly, most of them died of starvation or dehydration en route.
There are always some bees who don’t survive being shipped. Even the package bees we have picked up from our local sources always have a few dead. But most of them do just fine.
Look, people make mistakes. It’s part of being human. But when surely when you’re dealing with live animals, there should be checks in place to make sure such slip-ups are caught.
That’s what I would think, wouldn’t you?
Well, there’s a box full of dead bees outside that says otherwise.
About 10,000 dead bees, to be exact. Bees that are dead because a human made a mistake (as we all do), and no one checked it.
There is a bright side to this story, a small one, but a bright side nonetheless.
Our friend got a package of bees that was basically a queen and a few attendants. He’s also getting a refund.
We got a package with a dead queen, that we were hoping would make a queen from a frame of eggs. And we have a hive that is thriving.
We could think of two main options, which depended on the state of our hives:
- If our new queenless hive hadn’t created a queen, we could introduce Olga to that hive.
- If the new hive had made a queen, we could split our larger hive, queening the split with Olga.
I was at work, so The Engineer went to our friend’s and came home with Olga.
He did a quick scan of our new hive, saw now evidence of queen cells, and inserted Olga’s cage.
He did say there were a lot more bees in the hive (probably from all the eggs on the frame we put in), and that he saw scattered capped brood on more than one frame, which means they couldn’t have been from the original eggs, which were all on one frame.
On reflection, he remembered at least some of the capped brood were drone cells.
From this I have surmised, we have a laying worker.
This isn’t great news either. Generally hives with laying workers won’t accept a new queen unless the hive is strong and you introduce frames of brood at the same time.
Okay, we didn’t do that, but we will try to rectify the situation on Saturday.
Also, we did once manage to requeen a hive with laying workers when we had no brood to put in it.
So, there’s hope.
Meanwhile, we are crossing our fingers once again for this hive, whose name has now been changed to the Olgas.