The truck, driven by a commercial beekeeper traveling from California to North Dakota, tipped over on Interstate 80 at around 10:40 a.m. local time Monday, Cameron Roden, public information officer for the Utah Highway Patrol, told CNN. The crash occurred because the driver was driving too fast on a curve, Roden added.
Eastbound I-80’s right lane was closed for about four hours to clean up the crash site and the driver was taken to the hospital due to numerous bee stings and minor injuries from the crash, Roden reported. Several troopers on the scene also received bee stings.
Julie Arthur, president of the Wasatch Beekeepers’ Association, told CNN the truck was transporting 416 boxes, each of which carried between 50,000-100,000 honeybees used to pollinate crops across the country.
“At least 10 million bees were in the air,” Arthur noted. She put out a call to her team to help capture the huge swarm, but the beekeeper told authorities on site it was not worthwhile to attempt to save the bees.
It wasn’t until Tuesday morning Arthur received a call saying she and her team could stage a rescue mission.
The scene was “a gigantic mess,” Arthur recounted, with honey and honeycomb wax melting in the sun and boxes scattered everywhere, covered in the fire foam fighters had used to spray down some of the bees.
“Little of the equipment was salvageable,” Arthur observed. “But we found a huge pile of bees on the back of the hillside.” She described seeing “a wall of bees” 8 feet long, 4 feet deep, and 5 feet high. “We just started piling bees into boxes as fast as we could. They were not nice. They had just been dumped off a truck and most of them had lost their queen.”
Altogether, Arthur and a group of five volunteers rescued about 10% of the wayward bees.
Whereas the rescued bees were previously destined to travel the country pollinating crops for farmers, now they’re going to be used as teaching aids for burgeoning beekeepers.
“A lot of those bees are gonna be used as teaching hives for the Wasatch Beekeepers’ Association,” Arthur explained. “Others went to some of the beekeepers that helped, other organizations that needed bees, community gardens.”
Arthur added she hopes the incident prompts Utah to develop a more unified strategy to deal with accidental bee releases.
“We had hours of confusion as to who was allowed to do what,” she acknowledged. “The good thing to come out of this is that the Utah Highway Patrol and Utah Department of Transportation and local fire and police departments have said we need to come up with an immediate strategy if this happens again.”
“Everyone knows how valuable honeybees are to our environment, but they were not sure what to do,” she added. “It’s really fortunate that we had people who wanted to come out and help.”