The truck, driven by a commercial beekeeper traveling from California to North Dakota, overturned on Interstate 80 around 10:40 a.m. local time Monday, Cameron Roden, public information officer for the Utah Highway Patrol. The crash happened because the driver was going too fast around a bend, Roden added.
The right lane of eastbound I-80 was closed for approximately four hours to clean up the crash site and the driver was taken to hospital with numerous bee stings and minor injuries from to the crash, Roden reported. Several soldiers at the scene also received bee stings.
Julie Arthur, president of the Wasatch Beekeepers’ Association, told CNN the truck was carrying 416 boxes, each carrying between 50,000 and 100,000 bees used to pollinate crops across the country.
“At least 10 million bees were in the air,” Arthur noted. She called in her team to help capture the huge swarm, but the beekeeper told the authorities there that it wasn’t worth trying to save the bees.
It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that Arthur received a call that she and her team could organize a rescue mission.
The scene was “a gigantic mess,” Arthur recounted, with honey and honeycomb wax melting in the sun and boxes strewn everywhere, covered in the fire-fighting foam the fighters had used to spray some of the bees.
“A small part of the equipment was salvageable,” observed Arthur. “But we found a huge pile of bees at the back of the hill.” She described seeing “a wall of bees” 8 feet long, 4 feet deep, and 5 feet high. “We just started piling the bees into boxes as fast as we could. They weren’t nice. They had just been thrown out of a truck and most of them had lost their queens.”
In total, Arthur and a group of five volunteers saved about 10% of the rebellious bees.
While the rescued bees were previously meant to roam the country pollinating crops for farmers, they will now be used as educational aids for burgeoning beekeepers.
“A lot of these bees are going to be used as teaching hives for the Wasatch Beekeepers Association,” Arthur explained. “Others went to some of the beekeepers who helped, other organizations that needed bees, community gardens.”
Arthur added that she hopes the incident will inspire Utah to develop a more unified strategy to deal with accidental bee releases.
“We had hours of confusion about who was allowed to do what,” she admitted. “The good thing to take from this is that the Utah Highway Patrol and Utah Department of Transportation and local fire and police departments said we need to come up with an immediate strategy if this happens again.”
“Everyone knows how valuable bees are to our environment, but they didn’t know what to do,” she added. “It’s really lucky that we had people who wanted to come and help us.”