Honey Bee Transport Stress Relief!
About 75% of crops (fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains) and ⅓ of our world's food supply need pollinators like honey bees to help them grow (Our World in Data, 2013). In the U.S., between ½ and ⅔ of honeybee colonies are transported during pollination season each year; about 14-43 million individual bees are transported in the U.S alone. (Schukraft, 2019). The honey bees are typically shipped in their hives on open-air semi- trucks. Beekeepers rely on experienced truck drivers like Idaho-based Earl and Merle Warren to transport their hives safely; the Warren brothers started hauling bees in 1990 and they say they have moved 50 loads of about 22 million bees for beekeeping and honey companies like Browning’s Honey Company (Sporrer, 2022). A honeybee colony may be moved across the country several times a year, often traveling thousands of miles, for example from North Dakota to Northern California to Central Washington and back to North Dakota (Schukraft, 2019). Yet, honey bees are fragile and sensitive; and stress can lead to hive collapse, declining populations, and failing crops. There are five major stresses on honey bees during local and long-distance transportation.
First, honey bees can get stressed during local and long transportation [by truck or airplane] because they get disoriented when they are moved away from their home base. One possible solution is for the beekeepers and transporters to do inching. Inching means moving the beehive from place to place in small moves (a series of short drives/trips); and you can put markers like twigs and branches near the hive entrance to help guide the bees back when at a new location (BKC, 2022; Flow Hive, 2020).
Second, honey bees could get stressed because of poor ventilation [airflow] and hot conditions. The average 400+ tightly packed beehives on a semi-truck give off a lot of heat; and transport in extreme heat or humidity should be avoided if possible (Wyns, 2018). According to trucker and bee hauler Earl Warren, “The hotter it gets, the worse it is. It’s all about timing. You have to know how many miles your run [trucking route] is. You stop for a potty break, and the bees are out [flying away!] because they’ve lost the airflow” (Sporrer, 2022). One solution is to arrange the hives on the truck bed for proper airflow; drive at night when it’s cooler outside; and bring a spray bottle or a hose to periodically cool the bees off with cold water or sugar syrup so they do not get overheated (BKC, 2022; Schukraft, 2019; Sporrer, 2022; Wyns, 2018).
Third, honey bees may get stressed due to lack of food and resulting hunger. One solution is for the beekeeper to plan ahead when preparing their hives for transit, giving them enough food for at least 1-2 days. It is best to include the bees’ honey and some honeycomb on a few of their beehive frames in their hive-box (BKC, 2022).
Fourth, honey bees might get stressed because of vibrations they feel during transportation. In the hive, bees use vibrations to communicate with each other through the honeycomb – so vibrations from the truck’s motion confuse them. One solution is to properly secure the beehive-boxes (with ratchet straps) and use some padding to cushion the hives before driving (BKC, 2022; Flow Hive, 2020).
Fifth, honey bees can get stressed because of many unfamiliar noises they detect in the environment as their transport-truck moves down the road. One solution is to transport the hives at night when it’s quieter and less busy on the road, which reduces their exposure to the noises from daytime sources like passing traffic and sirens; and bees are also less active at night (BKC, 2022).
It is important to note that moving honeybee colonies across U.S. state lines is governed by state livestock and bee movement laws, which could be different in each state that the bee transporter is traveling through. Make sure to map the route and research each state’s policies (you could contact the state apiarist), prepare to transport the hives in a way that meets local regulations (there is a subset of operators in the transportation industry specializing in bee hauling), get special permits if needed, and know that some states may have quarantines against [not allow] commercial bee movement across their state because they are trying to control diseases and pests of bees. Bee colony health inspections may be required to enter, exit, or pass through states with live bees; the regulations are strict for California (BKC, 2022; Wyns, 2018).
In conclusion, commercial honey bees are very important to the survival of our Earth’s food systems – meanwhile, they must travel across the country [by truck or sometimes by plane!] to pollinate different crops throughout the pollination season; U.S. state laws govern the bees’ transport; and the bees face various stresses during their transportation. But the stresses can be managed with our help, thanks to best practices learned and shared by beekeepers, researchers, and honeybee haulers /truckers!
Figure A. Bee hives on an open-air semi-truck
Bee Keep Club (BKC). (2022). Trucking Bees - How to Move a Beehive. Blog. Retrieved at https://beekeepclub.com/trucking-bees-how-to-move-a-beehive/
Flow Hive. (2020). How to Move a Bee Hive. Blog. Retrieved at https://www.honeyflow.com/blogs/beekeeping-basics/how-to-move-a-bee-hive
Our World in Data. (2013). Food Supply. https://ourworldindata.org/food-supply
Schukraft, J. (2019). Managed Honey Bee Welfare: Problems and Potential
Interventions. Rethink Priorities. Retrieved at https://rethinkpriorities.org/publications/managed-honey-bee-welfare-problems-and-potential-interventions
Sporrer, A. (2022). A Day in the Life of a Honeybee Trucker. FreightWaves. Retrieved at https://www.freightwaves.com/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-honeybee-trucker
Wyns, D. (2018). The Long Haul. Bee Informed. Retrieved at https://beeinformed.org/2018/02/08/the-long-haul/