Fourteen million honeybees were in for a rough ride when the tractor-trailer hauling their hives overturned last week. The crash sent bee-boxes, honeycombs, and honeybees flying. Efforts were made to bring minimal damage to the bees themselves, but that many bees, even under the best of circumstances, is a lot of bees to keep happy.
The bees were being hauled from one part of Washington to another to pollinate a blueberry crop. The truckload of 448 hives held bees worth nearly $100,000. Saving the investment in the bees from a monetary point was one thing – saving the bees themselves was of vital importance for an entirely different reason.
Honeybees are essential to crop pollination along the West Coast. They usually begin with almonds in California and work their way up to Washington blueberries. All this pollination calls for a lot of bees. It’s estimated that nearly 500,000 colonies of bees were needed to pollinate the crops in Washington back in 2012. Since honeybee populations worldwide – wild and cultivated – are undergoing a decline with severe die-offs over each winter, there are barely enough bees to meet the need.
Several theories have been put forth to explain why the bees are not doing well. Some blame a mite. Some blame pesticides. Some blame stress. Then again, it’s possible a combination of all three is putting high levels of pressure on the bees’ immune systems. This pressure may be reaching levels high enough to result in lower resistance to mites and pesticide build up. The net result is bees that cannot make their way back to their hives.
In the case of the spill on the roadway, beekeepers tried not to wet the bees down with water or foam. Agitated bees, however, are stinging bees. Once they leave their hives, “they’re little flying solar panels. As soon as light hits them, they want to be active,” said Mark Emrich, president of the Washington State Beekeepers Association.
It’s also true with bees, that even if you could scoop them up and dump them into a bee-box, that wouldn’t be enough. “Once you shuffle the cards, it’s almost impossible to figure out who goes to who,” Emrich said. “The ones (hives) on the outside and split open on the road: That’s just done. You can’t unring the bell.”
Accidents with bees are a fairly common occurrence during the spring when bees are trucked around to pollinate crops. In fact, without the bees, we would not have melons, strawberries, blueberries – pretty much any of the succulent fruits and vegetables we look forward to when the weather warms.
These fourteen million honeybees are just one casualty of the practice of shipping bees to crops rather than creating conditions that are favorable to the maintenance of hives on or closer to the site. Since honeybee populations in the wild have declined and maintained hives are now essential for pollination on a commercial basis, a good look at the effects of trucking bees from crop to crop is decidedly overdue.