Bees can be sensitive animals to keep. They’re small and delicate, and there are so many of them that problems are bound to arise if they don’t have enough space. There might be any number of reasons you want to delay moving them into their true hive when your packaged bees arrive—like a resurgence of cold weather—but how long exactly can you safely leave them in there?
Well, the most straightforward answer is that you should remove them as quickly as possible. Ideally, you would move them to their hive the day they arrive. By doing this, you’ll dramatically reduce the chances of them becoming injured due to transportation.
Now you understand the importance of getting bees out of their packages when you receive them, let’s take a look at best practices for newly arrived bees.
How long can packaged bees stay in a cage?
When your bees first arrive, you’ll need to check a few things before you can have the best idea of how long you can safely leave them in there.
1. Determine how long they’ve been in the cage
The first thing you’ll need to do is check the feeding can. When they first arrive, you’ll have no real way of knowing how long they’ve been in there. It won’t be much longer than a few days, but it will make all the difference. The average feeding can for shipping bees will last about four days, though this will vary. Checking how much syrup is left in there will give you a good idea. If it’s completely empty, fill it back up, but don’t leave your bees in there for more than three more days. One week is really the upper limit on how long they should stay in there.
2. Find a cool, dark space to leave the cage
If you do intend to leave your bees in their package for a while, you’ll need to find somewhere dark, cool, and dry to leave them. It shouldn’t be too cold or too hot. If it’s too warm, they will be desperate to fly around and get out. If it’s too cold, they’ll start consuming a lot more food. Finding somewhere dark, cool, and quiet to leave them is essential, as you will want to keep them as calm as possible while they’re in the packaging. In the ideal conditions, the bees could last up to 10 days in the cage.
3. Bee lifespan
In the lifespan of a bee, a week inside a shipping cage can represent a very long time. Bees live on average around 35 days. Every day, some of the bees in the cage will die. In order to get the work done once they’re in the hive, you’re going to need a certain number of bees, and even if the queen laid eggs on day 1, they would take three weeks to mature into workers. The bees that get delivered to you will vary in age, but even if they were shipped at only one day old, if you left them packaged in the cage for a week, they’ve lost over a fifth of their total life cycle. Leaving them in the packaging for any amount of time, as you can see, will make it much harder for them to set up the hive successfully.
How long can you keep bees in a cardboard box?
The material that your bees ship in will vary, but it will often be cardboard. You may also be wondering about shipping your own bees in cardboard for selling them. The truth is that bees will last even less time inside a cardboard box, depending on a few things.
Firstly, before you can know how long you can leave the bees in the box, you’ll need to check the ventilation. Often the ventilation on bee shipping cardboard boxes will be very poor, in which case you really shouldn’t leave them in there for more than a few hours. Bees will begin dying out very quickly in poorly ventilated cardboard boxes. Cardboard is only meant to be a temporary shipping material.
2. Open or closed “nuc” box
A “nuc” box is short for nucleus, as offshoot bee colonies taken from larger colonies are known as nucleus colonies. Typically, these boxes will be closed, meaning that the bees can’t come and go as they choose. However, if you do have an open nuc, depending on the weather, your bees could stay in for a few weeks. This is still far from ideal, however, as such a situation can present many problems. If your nuc box is closed, you shouldn’t leave them in there for more than 3 or 4 hours. In any case, you should always aim to get the bees out of their packages and into their hive as quickly as possible.
3. Waxed or unwaxed cardboard
Cardboard, as you will surely know, is not the most durable of substances. It does its job very well, temporarily housing products for shipping. But even the faintest hint of poor weather will damage it permanently. You will sometimes get waxed cardboard nucs, which can last a bit longer, even in the rain. But they are still not intended to be a permanent solution; you should try and move your bees out of it as soon as possible. If the box is unwaxed, you shouldn’t leave it outside at all. Any adverse weather conditions could damage it and the bees.
So, there are a lot of factors you need to consider, but, ultimately, you should always aim to get the bees out of their packaging as soon as possible. Whether they’re packaged in the sturdiest material, if you have the perfect dark, cool, quiet spot to put them, if they have a full food supply, all of this will not be enough to keep your bees completely safe and healthy inside their confinement. They need to be able to get out and move around, and more importantly, the queen needs to start laying eggs as soon as possible. So don’t waste any time—get your bees straight into their hive.