bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Settlers transporting bees

Mike, a reader of this blog, has posed a question I've often wondered about:
How did the early settlers manage the transportation of their honey bees from Europe to places like Australia, New Zealand, & America?

It seems generally agreed that they were transported in straw skeps.

Tom Turpin gives a version of the story implying that honeybees were confined on board ships on their 6-8 week journey to the USA -- and that there were many losses (like only one of twelve colonies surviving the trip to California).

However, Tammy Horn in her book Bees in America (p36), quotes a nineteenth century Belgium report by Edward Goodell:
“The bees were placed on deck as follows: A strong oak platform was built on the stern of the ship, the crate containing the skeps was bolted to the platform facing the sea at the rear of the ship. This kept the bees as far as possible from the ship's crew and passengers.”

This still leaves many unanswered questions like: how many bees lost their bearings if they could fly out the back of the boat?; what colonies survived the transport best?; on the very long journeys to Australia and New Zealand were they fed en route?

Update: Cat points out that Tammy Horn also writes:
By 1621, the Virginia Company was sending ships loaded with "divers sorte of seed, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, connies [rabbits], Peacock maistives [mastiffs], and Beehives," according to an invoice sent from the Council of the Virginia Company in London sent to the Governor and Council of Virginia.



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