Windshield bees

Road kill. In this case, it’s bees. I was out of the city yesterday, cruising the Alberta back roads at 110. (The posted speed limit was 100, so maybe that was really my speed.) I passed a few bee yards tucked into meadows within small groves of trees. On one moderately busy paved road three honey bees spit up on my windshield. Big blobs of nectar were the imprint on the glass where those unfortunate bugs made contact with my van. I spent the rest of my trip calculating how much money this collision cost the beekeeper in lost honey. Not much, it turns out. But I wasn’t the only traveler out there.

How many bees does it take to make a dollar? These days, a dollar’s worth of honey (wholesale) is about half a pound. Well, those hapless bees that damaged my windshield were fat, but there certainly was not half a pound of nectar among the lot. And nectar cures into honey at a pretty high ratio. So we are talking partial pennies, of course. (Canada ridded herself of whole penny months ago.) The math (and the guilt of ending three promising foraging careers) was making it hard for me to think about my driving, so I decided to look at this in a different way. Yesterday, about two cars a minute passed that bee yard at the same speed as my van – or faster. (Alberta’s farmers drive quickly – their grandparents all raced horses at one time or other.) At a rate of two vehicles per minute, that’s 30 each hour. If, like my van, they each kill three bees, then we’ve killed almost a hundred bees. That would be a thousand in the course of each of our very long, very sunny summer days. Over a period of thirty days of peak honey flow, that amounts to 30,000 dead honey bees. This is just an estimate, but it represents something close to half the foraging population of a producing hive for the month. The average crop here is 200 pounds, so the beekeeper – over the course of his season – has lost about 100 pounds of honey, or 5 pounds from each of the 20 colonies in that apiary. One hundred pounds of honey, at today’s prices, is $200. That’s something to notice. And, five kilometres down the road was another yard and another honey bee slaughter site.

What’s the solution? Always a believer in the benevolence of a big cumbersome government, I could advocate for highway signs and strict enforcement. Why allow drivers to speed along at 110 when there are bees at play? We should have heavy fines for offenders. Or, perhaps we could have police checkpoints where kindly RCMP officers scrape windshields or otherwise count the road kill and drivers then pay a fee, especially if they’ve been killing without a license. To be effective, the fee would be much greater than the pittance of lost honey from the few bees clobbered – a prohibitive penalty, if you like. Then there is the libertarian’s perspective. The government stays out of this particular issue. The marketplace takes over. Honey prices soar because of the reduced crop. Or beekeepers, counting all those partial pennies lost, simply move their bees to safer spots.

There is some good news in this story. The squashed bees on my messy windshield indicate the Alberta honey flow (at least in our area) isn’t over yet. And with the forecast predicting warm sunny weather, maybe it will last into September.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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