Dead Bees in a Package — How Many is Too Many?

Ask the Expert!

Dead Bees in a Package — How Many is Too Many?

Backyard Beekeeping reader writes:

I received my package, and 80 to 90% of the bees were dead. I could not tell if the queen bee was there. We tried to remove most of the dead bees. We just put the queen part at the bottom of the brood box. We left the dead box of bees, outside the hive body. When we checked this morning, a lot of bees were still attached to the outside transfer box that they came in. We noticed a lot of bees stacked and attached to the lid of the outside of the dead bees transfer box. We realized that the queen must have escaped, and was on the lid. We removed a few frames and put the whole smaller transfer of the small box inside of the brood box. Is that ok? Should we try to pick her up, and move her by hand, on the comb? I don’t think the hive will make it with so few bees. This is my first time with bees. This is so discouraging.


We reached out to Rusty Burlew for her thoughts on this topic. She’s covered this FAQ on her site, HoneyBeeSuite.com. Here are her thoughts:

You most likely cannot start a colony with only 10 or 20% of a package. I have discussed this with beekeepers many times and some have succeeded with 50% dead. A few experienced beekeepers have been able to squeeze a colony out of 40%, but what you are describing is over the top. I hope you photographed everything because that is your best evidence when you try to get a refund.

If the box came by mail, you should always show the postmaster immediately so he or she can verify the condition of the package. In fact, whenever you buy live animals — including queens, packaged bees, chicks, ducklings, or anything else — always open them in the presence of the postmaster or mail carrier, so they can fill out the paperwork based on what they witnessed.

Unfortunately, this is a common problem. It’s so common that many producers refuse to ship and insist on pick-up instead. Contact the seller immediately and tell them what happened and see what your options are. In the meantime, put the queen and the live bees in a brood box or nuc box, and see what happens.


If you are new to raising bees, learn how to install your package bees before opening up your packages.

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