First Place: Sophie Grow, Oregon

Honey Bee Travel Without Stress: Why Our Nation Depends on It

It is estimated that 80% of all crops grown in the United States require pollinators.Many agricultural crops, on the order of $14 billion dollars' worth, depend upon domesticated bee hives to help with pollination, and some, such as almonds, are 100% dependent upon the honey bee.While many people witness honey bees at work, they do not think about how they got there in the first place. Transportation of honey bees can be stressful for the transporter and beekeeper but most of all for the traveling honey bees. Beekeepers must implement strategies to minimize colony stress and reduce the amount of total hive loss during
transportation. In doing so, the entire United States' food supply will benefit.

Honey bees will be moved from state to state or apiary to apiary during the spring bloom season, for the pollination of crops. This travel is driven by the profit of pollination services (valued at roughly $250 million to more than $320 million annually).3 Large-scale crop pollination is beyond the capacity of local hives, therefore requiring honey bees to be brought in from elsewhere. While this essay mainly discusses transporting honey bees on a large scale, all of the stress-reducing methods and regulations can and should be implemented on a hobby beekeeping scale also.

Whether you are moving honey bees to a local apiary or for large-scale almond pollination, consider the critical need to provide a consistent temperature and adequate ventilation and hydration.1 Honey bees are one of the few insect species that can thermoregulate much higher than ambient temperatures. They do this through coordinated social behavior, and they have evolved to rely on stable, warm temperatures between 32-35 degrees Celsius (about 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit). Deviations from this range are stressful.6
Long-distance transportation of colonies is associated with increased colony stress and loss, as
honey bees cannot forage during transport and may be subjected to excessive heat or cold,
depending on the season.2

Another factor to consider when transporting honey bees on a large truck is close proximity to other hives/colonies. The spread of disease such as Nosema or parasites like Varroa mites is more likely when hives are shipped together. Traveling bees also have greater oxidative stress levels, which ages them more quickly and may lessen their capacity to fight off disease and parasites.4 Large-scale commercial beekeepers and hobby beekeepers often employ routine pesticide applications to kill mites and other pests throughout the year but not necessarily before transport.5

In a recent interview with Noah Clipp, a commercial beekeeper and owner of Noah's Bees and Products in Grants Pass, Oregon, it was discovered that Noah has had an abundance of experience transporting bees for pollination services. He has transported them for pollination services from 30 to 500 miles away. When asked about necessary equipment for shipping hives, he said, “You need to keep a net around the hives, so they don't fly away during transport." He explained that it's best to travel with bees at night. The bees are less likely to leave the hive because of low temperatures (honey bees do not like to fly in temperatures under 40 degrees Fahrenheit). Traveling at night also reduces stress for the bees because they do not feel the need to move around as much. Even though some beekeepers tape the entrance to the hives during transport, Noah does not because it limits airflow to the hive.

Noah explicitly states that colonies can get overheated, more so in warm weather, because each hive in close proximity during transportation generates a lot of heat. He said that once, his transport truck had to call the fire department to spray their hives with water to cool them down. "Sometimes you can't avoid traveling in warmer weather, like if you have a contract to pollinate clover fields (that need to be pollinated in June). Be aware of weather and be prepared, same as in cold weather, and have the right equipment handy," Noah said. In warmer weather, driving at night is the best solution. Noah marks his hives that are low on honey so he can feed them extra, especially before travel. Noah explains that the largest cause of stress from transporting honey bees is "all the jostling and movement that isn't normal for them."

The main ways to minimize honey bee stress during transportation include traveling at night to reduce the movement of the bees, feeding heavily before and after transportation (but not during transportation), implementing regular disease/parasite treatments (but not specifically before transport), covering hives with a net to prevent bee loss (this is required when transporting bees), and lastly, securely strapping hives to the truck to minimize movement.

When moving honey bees across state lines, the majority of U.S. states have regulations mandating hive registration, inspections, and certifications of health for colonies and bee products prior to transport.5 A few states, however, have none at all. In Noah's experience, when crossing the Oregon/California border, you have to stop at the agriculture station, present who is transporting the bees, and where they are going. There is a decidedly minimal inspection of the outer hives, checking for noxious weeds or dirt clumps. They do not open the hives for a full inspection or request a permit.

It is important to know how to transport honey bees as stress-free as possible, to be certain hives prosper wherever they are going. Knowing state regulations on hive transport will eliminate unnecessary stress, both for the transporter and bees. Because honey bees are vital to 80% of the U.S. yearly crop yield, their importance cannot be overstated. Whether honey bees are aiding the pollination of our nation's crops or traveling to a new home, any stress that can be avoided, should be.

Bibliography 

  1. "Beekeepers: Best management practices to protect pollinator." The Wisconsin Pollinator
    Protection Plan, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection,
    July 2016. Available at: PPPBeekeepers1pg.pdf (wi.gov)
  2. Bond, Jennifer K., et al. "Honey Bees on the Move: From Pollination to Honey
    Production and Back." 1. A report summary from the Economic Research Service , U.S
    Department of Agriculture, June 2021. Available at: Honey Bees on the Move: From
    Pollination to Honey Production and Back (usda.gov)
  3. Clipp, Noah. Owner of Noah's Bees and Products in Grants Pass, OR. Interview.
    Conducted by Sophie V. Grow, 17 Mar. 2022.
  4. Kulikowski, Mick. "2. Nutrition Matters: Stress from Migratory Beekeeping May Be
    Eased by Access to Food." NC State University, 24 Aug. 2016. Available at: Nutrition
    Matters: Stress From Migratory Beekeeping May Be Eased by Access to Food | NC State
    News (ncsu.edu)
  5. Mailander, Deborah, and Zoe Grant . "When Honey Bees Hit the Road: The Role of
    Federal, State, and Local Laws in Regulating Honey Bee Transportation." University of
    Oregon School of Law Environmental and Natural Resources Law Center Food
    Resiliency Project, University of Oregon, May 2019. Available at: * Microsoft Word -
    When Honey Bees Hit the Road.docx (uoregon.edu)
  6. Melicher, Dacotah, Ph.D. "Road Trip: How Hive Transportation Puts Stress on Honey
    Bees." ENTOMOLOGY TODAY , 1 Apr. 2019. Available at: Road Trip: How Hive
    Transportation Puts Stress on Honey Bees (entomologytoday.org)
  7. Nickeson, Jaime (Curator), and NASA Official: Robert Wolfe. "Honey
    bees." HoneyBeeNet, NASA (Goddard Space Flight Center), 29 Aug. 2019. Available at:
    Honey bees (nasa.gov)

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