This is what happens when five million bees fall off a truck

The local police of Halton (Ontario, Canada) spread an alert message on social media early on Wednesday, August 30, asking residents of the Burlington district, in the area of ​​the highway north of Guelph and Dundas, that they remain inside their homes, with doors and windows closed, and that drivers traveling in the vicinity close the windows of their vehicles and do not stop until they leave the perimeter.

It was not a chemical accident or an attack, but a curious emergency caused by a traffic accident in which five million bees were affected.

The police had received a call at 06:15 (local time) warning that a truck carrying hundreds of bee hives ( Apis mellifera ) had accidentally lost its cargo and that the remains of the boxes with the honeycombs and swarms of these insects were scattered throughout the area, with an apparent risk to neighbors, drivers and onlookers.

After the first alert on social networks, and after equipping its agents with the little protective equipment available, the police made a second appeal for beekeepers available throughout the region to approach the accident area to try to help Restore order and collect the survivors.

The figure of five million bees on the run certainly seemed like a threat to public order and the safety of citizens, the local police considered from the beginning.

The amount indicated was not exaggerated. The truck was transporting about a hundred hives (the exact number has not been provided) and each of these nests contains a swarm that, at this time of year, can be made up of between 50,000 and 80,000 bees.

The danger of these pollinating insects and producers of honey, wax and jelly, among many other benefits, is generally relatively low but the safety measures were more than justified as it was an accident with broken combs and various mixed colonies, in an environment apparently hostile to these insects.

«It was quite a scene,» said Agent Ryan Anderson, one of the police officers deployed to the area. «The boxes were literally on the road and swarms of bees were flying everywhere.

Chopped at discretion

The most normal thing was for one of the humans present to receive a bite and, in fact, the truck driver (who was not wearing protective equipment) could have accumulated more than a hundred of these painful punctures, as explained in statements released by the BBC from Toronto Michael Barber, one of the beekeepers who participated in the rescue work. 

The person responsible for the truck, in any case, was quickly treated by medical teams and did not suffer significant damage, either from the stingers or from the traffic accident itself.

Apart from the stings from the driver and some minor stings, the bees were not particularly violent. 

As you may remember, honey bees are not aggressive and only sting (humans, for example) when they feel seriously threatened or perceive a danger to their colony. In general, bees avoid responding forcefully whenever they can, among other things because in their sting, the bees lose their stinger and a portion of the final part of their abdomen, which causes their death.

The damaged hives were being moved, in regular transport, to areas with greater humidity and availability of food at the end of summer, which also in this area of ​​central-eastern Canada, is experiencing high temperatures and low rainfall. 

About an hour after police posted a notice on social media, several beekeepers got in touch to offer help. 

At around 9:15 a.m., police said most of the bees had been safely collected and the boxes were being removed. Some hives had been left for uncollected bees to return to on their own.