One of the thousands of loads of bees heading south after the summer harvest didn’t make it. On Sunday morning, November 3, a tire blow-out on a tractor-trailer caused this crash in Georgia that killed millions. Of bees, that is. No humans were hurt in the wreck. Each fall, commercial beekeepers pull their hives out of northern clover fields and send them southbound where they can winter more easily in balmy Florida – and maybe make a bit of orange blossom honey in late winter. Semi-trucks can haul about 400 double-story hives, each with perhaps 30,000 bees in late fall. That’s 12 million bees and it is just the tiniest droplet in the river of hives (some 500,000 colonies) that are trucked to warmer climates in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and various other mild locations – every fall. The hives come from pollination and honey production in Maine or New York, Wisconsin or the Dakotas. This is in addition to hundreds of thousands of colonies moved into California each season.
This accident is a tragedy for the bees, and for the beekeeper. It is hard to recover from a mess like this. Even if there is insurance (usually there is not) it only pays for a small portion of the damaged equipment, not lost production from future queen sales, honey production, or pollination fees. I don’t know who owns the bees (hopefully not one of my relatives), but this accident reminds me of the close calls I had trucking bees when I was a youngster. For about ten years, I hauled around 1,000 colonies a season south on my own truck. I was more lucky than careful and never had an accident that hurt anyone or any bees. But I could have – driving bees is risky business. The bees need to arrive quickly, so the beekeeper-driver is likely to sit behind the wheel too many hours. These days, more and more beekeepers hire professional drivers with big flatbed rigs. Beekeepers provide the netting and the forklifts on both ends of the trip for loading and off-loading. But it is still quite a difficult logistics project.