Many beginning beekeeping customers will ask us, "Can you ship packaged honey bees?"
The answer is, yes, you can ship a package of bees, but how well they do in their first year mainly depends on how they are shipped. There are several places that have shipped packages of honey bees for sale, but will it be worth it?
The biggest point that we cannot stress enough is, please don't feel unnecessarily pressured into purchasing your packages earlier than January 1st. Most of your local suppliers will not start taking orders until after the first of the year; by waiting to purchase your bees until then, you will be giving yourself a lot of different purchasing options and prices. Both UPS and the United States Postal Service will ship packages of bees, but they both lack the temperature controlled units needed to transport the packages that will guarantee the bees' survival and good health. You can add insurance to the package of bees to "insure" their safe arrival, but before you decide on going with that option, you need to be aware of the terms and conditions of the insurance. You can read the USPS 526.22 Claims for Bee Shipments here. Depending on the service used, often times you need to wait at least 2 weeks before you can file a claim, and most often it is very difficult to obtain a refund, unless your package has been lost. If you do succeed in receiving a refund, by the time you wait around and get the payment in the mail, most bee suppliers can be sold out of packages and you will have to wait another year before you are able to get a healthy package of bees.
Even if you do get your 2 lb or 3 lb packages on time in the mail, it's the long term effects from the stress of shipping to be most concerned about. When bees are kept at a constant cooler temperature while in transit, they will hang from the top of the package in a cluster. Hanging in this cluster keeps them calm, so they don't get so stressed. If not kept cool, they tend to "run the cage", which means they constantly run up the sides of the screens, starting from the bottom and going to the top, and then starting all over again at the bottom. This puts a considerable amount of stress on the bees and can shorten their lives greatly. Honey bees already have very short life spans, so adding this extra stress can kill them when you are shipping your packaged honey bees.
One of the biggest issues that will have the largest impact on the hive is the health of the queen. If the bees are not kept cool enough with adequate ventilation, the queen can get overheated, which can either ruin her ability to lay eggs, or if she gets too overheated she can even die. If her ability to lay eggs is ruined, then she will be unable to start the next generation of worker bees, and eventually all of the worker bees that were in the package with her will die off, resulting in your losing your bee hive and the money you paid for your package.
As a new beekeeper, you may find it more convenient to drive 5 or 10 minutes to your local post office to pick up your new bees, but the best way for you to ensure that your package bees arrive healthy and alive, and the best way to skip the hassle and free yourself from the headache of dead or over stressed bees that will turn you away from enjoying beekeeping is to find Italian, Carniolan or Saskatraz packages for sale from a bee supplier close enough to you that you can go and pick them up yourself on package bee pickup day. You can usually find a bee supply by searching for honey bees for sale near me, or where to buy 2021 honey bee packages, no matter if you live on the East Coast, the West Coast, the Southern States, in the Midwest or the Mountain Regions of the United States. There are bee suppliers that package their bees themselves, and they will usually do so the day before or the morning of your pick up. There are also suppliers that bring the packages in from California or from the southern states. Find out information from them about how they get their bees in, if they are brought in by truck ask if it was a climate controlled truck to make sure that the bees have been kept cool enough. There should not be very many dead bees on the bottom of the package, and you should be receiving the bees shortly after your bee supplier got them in.
One good way to find out for sure about a company that ships packages of bees is to check out the Better Business Bureau's website, to see if they have had any complaints filed against them. You can learn a lot about the company that you're dealing with by finding out if they have had any unhappy customers in the past, and how the claims have been settled.
In order for your package honey bees to thrive and produce a honey crop, you need to take good care of them, and that begins with ensuring before you even pick them up that they are in good health, with little added stress. Keep bees at a cooler temperature (but not too cold) with enough air flow and make them cluster so they won't get so stressed. The less stress that gets added to the bees, and the quicker you can get them put into their new hive, the healthier they will be and the better they will do, and the happier you will be with beekeeping!
From all of us here at Lappe's Bee Supply -