Millions of angry bees swarm after wreck

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2011

NATCHEZ — You would be ticked, too, if you and 44 million of your buddies were stuffed in an 18-wheeler when it flopped over like a dead daisy in the middle of pollination season.

Truck driver Mike Johnson had almost reached his South Adams County destination to put 448 honeybees to bed Thursday night, when the truck’s back axle fell in a ditch on the passenger side and pulled the hulking truck with a swarming cargo flat to its side.

The bees were coming from California to a plot of land near Sibley in order to catch Mississippi’s warm weather and early pollination season before being hauled off to South Dakota to get busy making money, Ken Ensminger said.

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Ensminger is a coordinator stationed in Vidalia for A.H. Meyer & Sons Inc., a family-owned beekeeping company.

The truck fell over at approximately 9 p.m. Thursday when it was on its way up to the field from the highway. It did not get turned upright until 3:30 p.m. Friday, after all of the bee hives were rescued and laid out on the property in their customary white boxes.

Ensminger said the bee hives were covered with a net inside the truck, so they did not escape and were not harmed. It took from 5 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Friday to cut each box containing a hive out of the netting on the back of the truck and stack them in the field, Ensminger said.

Crews with Curtis Wrecker Services, who arrived to pull the 18-wheeler right side up, were decked out in white bee suits and netted hats, which Ensminger lent to them.

“They’re ticked off,” Ensminger said of the bees. “But they’ll (calm down) and then you can control them like anything else.”

Ensminger, whose only protection was a netted mask that attached to his Louisiana State University straw hat, said he had not been stung Thursday night or all of Friday even though he surrendered his suit to the towing employees.

“But I get stung all the time,” he said.

A crew member from Curtis said he was stung three times before he was able to put on his suit.

Ensminger said the men were able to clean up the mess much faster than he anticipated and that it could have been much worse.

He said the property owner, who trades the use of his property for three cases of honey, was very understanding about the mishap in his field, Ensminger said.

By 3 p.m., many of the bees had already settled down from the “trauma” of the car wreck. But the ones who were most recently rattled by the move from the truck made the sky and white boxes where their hives are kept look black from their swarming.

“They’re just confused,” Ensminger said. “By morning they’ll decide which box is theirs, and they’ll home-up.”

Ensminger said the worker bees who swarmed were looking for their queens.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol, Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Natchez Fire Department were all involved at some point with the accident and its angry cargo.

Ensminger said 21 more loads of honeybees will arrive in the area from California, hopefully with a smoother landing.