Package Bees – DOA

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.

Photo by The Engineer

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.

Note: Live bees also need food.
Photo by The Engineer

Stating the Obvious: Pesticides Poison Bees

Here’s a healthy bee, foraging on the dandelions in our yard this weekend.IMG_8708
Here are some of the bees we found piled outside the Buzzers’ Roost (II) entrance this morning. IMG_8528IMG_1136
Notice anything?

We’ll start with the obvious: They’re dead.
Also, they don’t look too good because they’ve been out in the rain.

But, look again.

Nearly every bee has its tongue (proboscis) out, which tells us they almost certainly died of pesticide poisoning. The second indicator is the many dead bees suddenly appearing outside the hive.

Since our hives are directly in sight of the house, we know the dead bees appeared overnight, littering the ground Sunday morning, with more on Monday, and many left on their front porch when we got up today.

Another symptom, which indicates the bees died after foraging on treated plants, rather than drift from someone’s “treatment,” is the fact that the other hive seems fine.

Since we live in a semi-rural area, surrounded by a few farms and many developments full of McMansions, the poison could have been sprayed on a crop or someone’s ornamentals.

It doesn’t matter. The bees are dead either way.

The hive still has a fair amount of bees, and they continue foraging, which is a good sign. They may recover from this.

And yet, this is a young hive, a nucleus hive, which means it’s small, just starting to grow into a full-sized colony. This poisoning will weaken the hive, making it more difficult to fight off the everyday bee pests — the hive beetles, the Yellow Jackets, and the dreaded Varroa Destructor, as well as any infections the bees may encounter. It’s equally likely the hive may not recover.

I’m disheartened and angry because I believe (completely without reason) someone saw a beetle or aphid on one of their plants, and couldn’t be bothered to learn how to treat those plants without killing my bees. Instead, they blasted their yard with insecticide, killing every insect around.

Yes, I’m being irrational, but how unfair that our hardworking bees – who do much to help pollinate everyone’s food source – are dying simply because they landed on a flower.

They’re bees. That’s what bees do. They fly from flower to flower, gathering nectar and pollen.

And now they’re dead.


Like most people, I get annoyed when beetles munch on my plants. And a true creature lover might argue even beetles deserve to live.

I am not that person, and I don’t expect you to be either.

But there are alternatives — many alternatives — to using pesticides.

Here are links to a few lists:

How to Keep Your Yard and Garden Pest-Free Without Harsh Chemicals” from Lifehacker

8 Natural and Homemade Insecticides: Save Your Garden Without Killing the Earth” (or the bees) from Treehugger

Pesticide Free Gardening” from Modern Agriculture

Probably the best source is Xerces Society:

It can be done.

And now, I’d like to ask you to give special attention to two particular types of chemicals commonly used in home gardens and yards;  neonicotinoids and glyphosate (commonly marketed as “Roundup”).

First up are the neonicotinoids, initially praised for their “low toxicity” to beneficial insects including bees. Alas, this has not proven to be true.  Although neonics don’t kill hives outright, they have been correlated to a shorter lifespan for bees, and higher incidence of queen loss. 

This is Buzzers’ Roost’s queen.  We’d like to keep her. 

The pesticide is also systemic, which means it leaches into all parts of the plant, not dispersing after the plant blooms.

For a more detailed report, read the Xerces report.

Neonicotinioids have been completely banned in the European Union since 2018.

The U.S., on the other hand, only recently banned twelve of them, leaving 47 still in use.

What you can do: Ask your gardening center which plants are not treated with neonicotinoids, and plan your plantings accordingly.

Next, we have glyphosate (commonly marketed as Roundup). Glyphosate-based products have been marketed as safe, but there have been several lawsuits settled in favor of plaintiffs who said using the chemical caused their Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. And there are more in the pipeline.

Studies are also now showing the chemical also affects bees’ health, specifically their gut biome. It also appears to affect their ability to find their way back to the hive.

Glyphosate is also finding its way into local streams and our water supply.

Is the death of a few dandelions worth this kind of damage?

So, when you pull the trigger on that insecticide bottle, remember you may also be pulling a trigger on your food and water supply, your health … and our bees.




The Bird and the Bees

First, the bird (and an apology for the poor picture quality — it was shot through glass).IMG_2578

I was working in the kitchen when I heard the “Whomp!” of a bird hitting the window. Unfortunately, this happens now and then, even where we put fake hawk stickers. I didn’t think too much about it until I glanced out a few minutes later to see this Tufted Titmouse still sitting on our deck looking bemused.

But, as I watched her/him, another Titmouse came up beside and started gently pecking and hovering above the first one as if encouraging it to get up and fly. IMG_2579

The first Titmouse merely sat back up, and blinked.

The second one flew away, and I thought that was the end of it.

However, a few minutes later, several Titmice — yes, that’s the correct plural — appeared. Two hung back and watched as one performed the same ritual: gentle peck, flutter above, push.

The crashed Titmouse’s response was modest, at best.

Once more, the “helper birds” flew away.

But one returned again, clearly determined to get her/his flockmate moving.

IMG_2580S/he shoved the first bird over, pecking, pushing, and fluttering around until finally, finally, they both flew off together.

It was amazing.

It was also quite smart because we have hawks who hunt on our property, occasionally even perching on our deck, probably for a better view of our bird feeders.



And now, some more good news.IMG_2588

Yes, this is a dandelion, and yes, I saw it Saturday when The Engineer and I went for a hike/walk.

I realize this may not be good news if you are the type of person to nurture an immaculate lawn. Still, that type of lawn requires herbicides, which aren’t good for bees, and if you’re someone who thinks a green lawn is more important than pollination, you’re probably reading the wrong blog anyway.

Suffice to say, dandelions are a major source of food for bees in the spring, so it’s good news for them.

In other bee news, the weekend was warm enough for us to treat the hives with oxalic acid vapor to kill any mites that might be on the bees.

We also scraped the dead bees from the bottom of the hives.

Below, you see two photos made into one, the top of FreeBees with the bees out exploring, and their dead sisters (along with a few brothers) in the picture beneath.3BA5759C-205B-4D5E-AC25-B0F3384F210F

It looks like lot of dead bees, but that’s to be expected. In warmer weather, the dead are less noticeable because they don’t all die inside. If they do, the other bees push them out the front (and occasionally pick them up and fly off to dump the carcasses elsewhere).

The Engineer pored through all the dead bodies and didn’t find any queens. In March 2018, this is how we learned we’d lost the queen of our only hive, so we’re always relieved when she’s not among the dead.

All three hives were active, with bees zooming in and out on cleansing flights. If you aren’t sure what “cleansing flight” means, feel free to check out my post on bee poop. The picture below is a pretty clear illustration of what it looks like.IMG_2586

And although beekeepers lose more hives in March than the winter, it’s still a relief to see them out flying in February.

In the early spring, bees sometimes run out of the food they stored for winter. We’re paranoid about this and feed them sugar patties. These are made from a four pound bag of sugar, about 6 oz of water, and some Honey-B-Healthy. The mixture is shaped into patties on parchment paper and left to dry.

The essential oils in Honey-B-Healthy are said to stimulate feeding. As a bonus, when I make a batch of bee food, the house smells wonderful for days!

The next time it hits 50 F, we’ll place the patties directly on top of the frames and pray it stays warm enough for the bees to reach the food.

Also, since we treated the hives, we’ll feed them some bee probiotics to help keep their guts healthy. It may sound a bit woo-woo, but there’s science to support the idea.

In fact, I think it helped last spring when Buzzers’ Roost’s bees had a touch (spurt?) of diarrhea. This is a scary symptom because it could indicate Nosema (which is truly awful). But, we’re learning. Before panicking, we cleaned out the fouled sugar pats and fed them probiotics. By the next hive check, the problem was gone.

As the weather warms, you’ll probably hear from me more often, but for now, I’d like to encourage you to consider voting for Queen Right Colonies in the FedEx Small Business Grant contest. Queen Right could win a $50,000 grant, and you can help by voting for them. Click on the link, and type “Queen Right” into the search box. You don’t even have to register. Just provide a name and email.

The folks at Queen Right been an invaluable help in our beekeeping adventures, and it would be great to see them get some love (or at least some cash).

Thanks for visiting!