Highway Wreck Frees Millions of Bees

Millions of honey bees escaped from an overturned trailer Sunday south of Sacramento, Calif. Local beekeepers were called in to contain the mess, with painful consequences for many.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

If it were a movie, it might be called The Swarm or The Buzz or Attack of the Honeybees, or perhaps, "The Sting." Okay, not "The Sting" - that's already been done. What we're actually talking about is an accident over the weekend on Highway 99, just south of Sacramento.

(Soundbite of TV news)

Unidentified Woman: The big buzz in Sacramento today, millions of bees loose on a local highway.

(Soundbite of TV news)

Unidentified Man: It took crews hours to get these bees back into their hives.

NORRIS: On Sunday, a big rig loaded with up to 400 colonies of bees flipped on its side, and you can imagine what happened next. The bees escaped - up to 12 million of them. Traffic came to a halt as the California Highway Patrol tried to contain the mess.

Michael Bradley was one of the officers on the scene. He's a spokesman for the Highway Patrol's South Sacramento district, and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL BRADLEY (Spokesman, California Highway Patrol South Sacramento District): Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: So how did that truck flip over?

Mr. BRADLEY: Well, he was taking the on-ramp and it appears that he possibly was going too fast for the curve or that the load shifted while he was in the curve.

NORRIS: My goodness. I wonder what that call sounded like when it came in.

Mr. BRADLEY: That was pretty crazy that the log said that there was a swarm of bees flying all over the freeway.

NORRIS: Was the driver or anyone else hurt in that accident?

Mr. BRADLEY: The driver sustained minor injuries to his shoulder, he was treated by the paramedics at the scene, then released.

NORRIS: And I understand that you actually had to call in for help to contain that swarm. You called the local beekeepers.

Mr. BRADLEY: Yeah. We called local beekeepers to come in to help. And actually, several beekeepers that were actually bringing their colonies back, one company from Oregon was bringing their hives and colonies back to Oregon, he with passing by, turned back around to stop at the scene. Several other beekeepers that were in the area actually were driving by. And stopped and called other buddies to come by and help. So we actually have a lot of volunteer beekeepers besides the ones we called in.

NORRIS: Now, we should explain why so many beekeepers might actually be in the area. As I understand, you have a lot of big rigs carrying big loads of bees from around the country at this time of the year. Why this bee pilgrimage to California?

Mr. BRADLEY: Well, being that the San Joaquin Valley is a very big agricultural area, they use these bees to pollinate their crops and that's why you have those many bees traveling on the freeways right now.

NORRIS: And it seems that this time of the year, they're there to help out with the almond crop? Is that correct?

Mr. BRADLEY: Yeah. Almond crops and - yeah, all the other crops coming up. But it's typically the almond crops in the San Joaquin Valley.

NORRIS: You know, if I could take you back to that scene on Sunday on Highway 99. What did that swarm look like and what did it sound like?

Mr. BRADLEY: It was very loud. If you can imagine what a bee sounds like and you multiply that by about two million loose bees. And they got agitated several times, and they tried to use smoke to calm the bees, but they are flying around and got farther away from the colonies. They did become agitated and were stinging people.

NORRIS: Did you get stung?

Mr. BRADLEY: I did get one sting in my ear. I was out there doing pretty well for the most part and then the colony comes, started landing on my hair. And as I swatted them away, then one got me right in my ear.

NORRIS: Just one sting, though, it seems like you did pretty good, given all those bees...

Mr. BRADLEY: I did very well. One beekeeper told me that he had - he thinks he got stung probably 80 times while he was out there helping. And the problem was - is that when the colonies got disturbed, a lot of bees couldn't go back to their particular colony to find their queen.

NORRIS: They were looking for a particular position on the truck and it wasn't there.

Mr. BRADLEY: Correct.

NORRIS: What are you doing for your bee sting?

Mr. BRADLEY: Nothing. But basically, the beekeepers told me, they said, actually, it acts as a antihistamine sometimes, they say it's actually good for you. So, I mean, I don't have any allergic reactions then. Just about everybody out there got stung at least once. Nobody had any type of allergic reactions at all. So it looks like we did pretty well in that department.

NORRIS: Michael Bradley, thank you very much for talking to us. All the best to you, sir.

Mr. BRADLEY: Thank you.

NORRIS: Michael Bradley is a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. He says it's likely that hundreds of thousand of honeybees died in that accident on Sunday.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.