What Happens When 20 Million Bees Are Set Loose In A Highway Accident

Water to the rescue against peeved honeybees

Horst Sollinger/imagebroker/Corbis

How do you deal with up to 20,000,000 angry bees swarming a highway? That suddenly became top priority for the Delaware State Police, when a tractor-trailer hauling 460 crated hives overturned near Newark, Del., yesterday evening.

Luckily, 14 years ago, someone had the unusual—if convenient—foresight to develop an “official honeybee swarm removal plan.” This is the first time they’ve had to use it, says police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack.

Basically, the procedure involves calling a list of experts. Shavack told cbc.ca:

Three on-call bee handlers were sent to the scene and [were] working with firefighters to spray water on the insects, the crates and the truck.

"There's no rounding them up," Shavack said of the bees. "The water will disperse and calm the bee activity."

But once darkness fell, the bee-hosing wound down. The bee experts advised police that "when it's dark, the bees won't fly, the bees will crawl."

Since bees are cold-blooded and their body temperature varies with external conditions, bees need to be warm for their flight muscles to work. (They are generally loath to fly in the rain, too, but whether they are avoiding the impact of rain drops or the potential chill has yet to be confirmed.)

Twelve hours after the accident, the highway ramp was reopened. The driver and two passengers each suffered about 50 to 100 stings and were taken to hospital. The driver was later cited for unsafe shifting of a load in relation to a crash. They're lucky their cargo didn't include the vicious africanized bees, who recently showed up in Colorado, much to scientists' surprise.

If you ever have the misfortune of getting caught in a swarm of disoriented and thirsty bees, here's a how-to for escaping.


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