Tractor-trailer carrying 20 million bees crashes in Delaware

A shipment of 16 million to 20 million honeybees from Florida that overturned in Delaware was headed to blueberry fields in Washington County, Maine.

The bee shipment of 460 crated hives was intended to pollinate fields owned by Allen's Blueberry Freezer Inc. of Ellsworth, when the tractor-trailer overturned on an on-ramp to Interstate 95 near Newark, Delaware earlier this week.

"Bees have been rolling into Maine for more than three weeks. The bloom has been starting in areas like Gray and Dresden. The final loads will be coming in this weekend. They'll stay for three weeks to a month and move on to cranberries," said Maine state apiarist and bee inspector Anthony Jadczak.

"The pollination companies are the cowboys and the bees are the cattle. They just herd them around the country," he said.

Police say the driver of the truck and two passengers were taken to Christiana Hospital in Delaware with minor injuries from the crash and 50 to 100 stings each. There were reports of passersby also being stung.

Delaware State police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack said on-call bee handlers worked with firefighters to spray water to disperse and calm the bees. It was the first time state police used their official honeybee swarm removal plan.

The driver, Adolpho Guerra, 55, of Miami, Florida, was cited by state police for having an unsafe load.

The beekeeper and trucking company that was shipping the hives is Pollination US Inc., based in Felda, Florida.

"We've been shipping bees for 20 years and this was our first incident. We feel very lucky," said Pollination US owner Steven Eisele. He said local and commercial beekeepers in the area helped at the scene of the accident.

"I have to commend the local fire department. They responded well. They calmed the bees with water instead of foaming them with chemicals," he said. "It takes everyone working together."

Eisele said about half of the bees survived and will be taken to another site until a company representative can check on their welfare.

"It's very difficult on the hive to go through something like this, just as it would be hard on a person to have an accident," he said.

One hobby beekeeper who helped at the scene was allowed to keep two hives, but Eisele said he would try to salvage as many of the remaining hives as possible.

"My intent was to try to get it handled safely and get more bees salvaged safely," he said.

The total value of the truck and cargo was about $250,000, including the bees themselves, the hives and the income generated by the bees' pollination efforts. The truckload that overturned had been contracted for two pollinations in Maine. Eisele said his company had insurance on the cargo, and he contracted on the trucking service.

Eisele said he rents out about 2,800 hives a year, including about 1,500 hives directed to blueberries this summer.

"Albert Einstein said that when the bees disappear, so does mankind," Eisele said. "It's almost staggering when you think of the intricate role the bees play in our lives from fruits and vegetables, cattle and textiles. It's humbling."

Maine commercial farmers are expected to import about 75,000 to 80,000 hives this year for various commercial crops.

"Each year we import more. The more bees, the better the blueberry yield. The bees are really good and healthy this year," said Jadczak.

The cost to rent a hive varies from about $85 to $120 per hives, depending on the grade and quality of the bees, Jadczak said.

Imported bees typically start the year in California, pollinating almonds in February. Then they are moved throughout the country pollinating apples and cherries before coming to Maine for blueberry season.

Copyright 2014 - Portland Press Herald, Maine