Postage delays are causing a massive headache for queen bee breeders and keepers, who say crucial stock is turning up dead or going missing.

Key points:

  • Australia Post says it continues to grapple with “Christmas-like” volume
  • Breeders will trial data loggers to track temperatures and humidity in parcels, but are struggling to find a solution to the delivery problem
  • Native bee breeders are also experiencing delays with hive deliveries, which is impacting emerging markets

There have been reports that some parcels of the precious cargo are taking up to 10 days to arrive at their destination.

Australian Queen Bee Breeders Association (AQBBA) president Richard Sims said that was despite the livestock being sent express.

“They’re arriving dead, they’re arriving stressed or just not arriving at all,” he said.

“This is a flow-on effect down to the beekeeper, who can have his hives already set up waiting for these queen bees, or he’s waiting to requeen his queen bees that need to be kept at optimal level for honey production, or for the pollination industry, which is growing all the time now.” 

Mr Sims said the breeders did not know what was happening once parcels left their hands.

“We don’t know whether they’re left in postal sorting areas or they’re stuck in vans — depends if the tracking numbers work,” he said.

“I have recently heard of a batch that lasted seven days, but they turned up very poorly.

Queen bees in a package ready to be sent by post.

A package of queens ready to be delivered to Tasmania.(Supplied: Murwillumbah Queen Bees)

Christmas looms

Mr Sims said a package of virgin queen bees produced from queens and drone semen recently imported from the Netherlands sent from Victoria to Brisbane took 10 days to be delivered. 

“That was a very important package, as you can imagine,” he said.

“They did turn up live but they were in very poor condition, so whether they’re going to be any good for insemination is yet to be seen.”

The AQBBA is now recommending that breeders insure their queens, but Mr Sims said some were now refusing to send them.

“Some have just had enough of it, it’s just too much risk,” he said.

“We were supposed to be sending one lot to Victoria on Monday.

Mr Sims, who breeds queens in Murwillumbah, is at a loss as to what the solution could be. 

“Couriers can take up to five days to get them there, which can be acceptable,” he said.

“We’re also looking into using trucking companies.

An empty queen bee cage with hundreds of queen bees.

An empty delivery cage sits on a frame along with hundreds of bees.(Supplied: Murwillumbah Queen Bees)

Data loggers trial

The AQBBA is about to begin a trial using data loggers in delivery parcels to monitor the conditions for bees.

“There’s been some studies that have shown that temperatures above 40 degrees can affect the viability of the sperm stored within the queen bee, which can affect the longevity of the queen or her ability to keep laying eggs,” he said.

“So the association is buying some data loggers and we’re going to be sending them with packages of queen bees so we can test the temperatures that they’re exposed to while travelling and also the humidity.

“We’re not sure what this is going to show, but it’s going to hopefully rule out some of the problems that have been showing up with queen bees not lasting as long as they can in hives.”

An older, bespectacled man in a  bright shirt regards a letterbox-like bee encolsure.

Australian Native Bee Association president Tim Heard says a lot of keepers have lost faith in the postal system.(Supplied: Tim Heard)

Native hive delays

The Australian Native Bee Association has been experiencing similar delays.

President Tim Heard said members were still able to get hives to regional locations and to crops that need pollination, but they were seeing delays of more than a week to get hives delivered into Sydney, where the industry is seeing growth in the pet market.

“Whereas we could send hives on Monday and they would arrive, typically, on Wednesday, mid-week, we’re now seeing situations where they’re not even getting there by the end of the week,” he said.

“Most beekeepers package their hives so bees can breathe, but there is still a limit to how long these bees can survive being contained for.”

Bees sent in hives that face delays of more than week can run out of food and are at risk of asphyxiation.

Mr Heard said the risk was becoming too great for most beekeepers.

“It is coming at a cost to the beekeepers and it’s causing a fair bit of inconvenience to those in Sydney who are wishing to purchase these hives,” he said.

“Given that it’s likely that there will be an opening up of [Sydney], hopefully that will result in quicker postal and freight services.

“Priority for perishable goods would be a definite improvement.

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Australia Post sorry

In a statement to the ABC, a spokesperson for Australia Post said the service was experiencing Christmas-like volumes on top of border closures, reduced flights and lockdowns.

“Our teams are working hard to process and deliver parcels as quickly and safely as possible,” the spokesperson said.

“Every reasonable effort is taken to prioritise parcels containing live insects that are packaged and sent in accordance with our Dangerous and Prohibited Goods and Packaging Guide.

Bee breeders fear ‘flow-on effects’ as Australia Post delays see virgin queens arriving dead
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