Buzzing Through : Millions of Canada-Bound Bees Cool Their Heels on L.A. Stopover

Times Staff Writer

Four and a half million bees descended on Los Angeles Monday.

Don’t cringe. Their plane is to leave this morning.

Imported from New Zealand by a Canadian company, the bees are traveling in 432 small wood- and screen-covered cages. Crammed about 10,000 to the cage (9,999 workers, one queen), they fit on a single pallet in the belly of a jetliner.

They made a brief stop at Los Angeles International Airport, waiting overnight in Air New Zealand refrigeration facilities before they were to take a charter flight to Montreal.


Bee broker John Craighead, vice president of F. W. Jones & Son Ltd., said he normally imports bees by truck from several states in the southern United States. But the discovery late last year of a parasite in isolated areas of the South has made Canadian bee importers wary, he said.

Flying millions of bees is not unprecedented, but it is delicate.

Bees maintain their hives at about 61 degrees, and prolonged storage can suffocate them. An accompanying subtlety is the fact that when bees become hot, they panic and thereby generate more heat.

Five years ago, 5 million bees boarded a Hughes Air West jetliner in Phoenix for a nonstop flight to Alberta, Canada, and did not survive the trip. A “thermal accident,” caused by loading the bees at high temperatures and overcrowding them in the cargo hold, was blamed.

Craighead explained: “You know that small air-conditioning unit you install in your house? One pallet of bees generates four times the heat that that air-conditioning unit can cool. They’ll come off the airplane at 70 to 80 degrees, so the most important thing is to remove them from the plane quickly after they land and put them in a chiller facility.”

Many of the bees will wind up in the hands of hobbyists, who find that 10,000 bees produce an appropriate-sized hive.

Monday’s flight was the sixth of eight such bee loads (each worth about $13,000) that Craighead’s firm plans to complete by the end of the week. He said that there was “a little mortality in the center of the pallet” on the first shipment and that the casualty rate has decreased since then.

For the squeamish, he noted that “there is no danger of any of them escaping” while in Los Angeles. “They are packaged in a secure bond.”