Truck carrying 15 million bees rolls over on I-95 in Clinton

Trucks - Truck carrying 15 million bees rolls over on I-95 in Clinton

A tractor-trailer truck carrying a load of about 15 million bees is shown Thursday night after rolling over off Interstate 95 north in Clinton. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Public Safety

CLINTON — A tractor-trailer truck carrying 15 million bees rolled over Thursday evening on Interstate 95, leaving the driver of the truck injured but the bees largely unharmed and contained, officials said.

The truck was heading north to Washington County when it crashed around 7 p.m. near mile marker 141, according to Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The bees were on their way to be delivered to pollinate blueberry fields in the Down East county, Moss said.

No other vehicles were involved, according to the Clinton Fire Department. Maine State Police did not immediately say what may have caused the crash, which led to the closure of the right lane of I-95 north in Clinton overnight.

The driver of truck, who was not immediately identified, was taken to the hospital with complaints of pain, Moss said.

The 15 million bees, however, were largely spared in the crash.

“The bees were mostly contained, and the goal was to save them,” Moss wrote in a news release issued Friday morning.

Trucks - Truck carrying 15 million bees rolls over on I-95 in ClintonTrucks - Truck carrying 15 million bees rolls over on I-95 in Clinton

A tractor-trailer truck carrying a load of about 15 million bees is shown Friday morning, after rolling over off Interstate 95 north in Clinton Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Clinton-Fire Rescue

Maine’s state apiarist, Jennifer Lund, contacted beekeepers in Down East Maine to come to the scene with another truck to take the bees to their final destination Thursday night, according to Jim Britt, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The Clinton Fire Department, Burnham Fire Department, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and Dostie’s towing responded to the scene Thursday, Moss said.

“The hives were placed on the pallets on the newly arrived truck,” Britt said. “It was a team effort.”

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry requires permits for shipping or moving honeybees or used honeybee equipment into Maine. Beekeepers must also apply for a license with the department. The load of bees was permitted properly through the department, Britt said.

The transport of bees for pollination is a multimillion dollar industry, according to a study published in 2021 by the Economic Research Service of U.S. Department of Agriculture. The February almond bloom in California accounts for much of the movement of bee colonies, the study found.

Maine has nearly 2,000 registered beekeepers who manage some 10,000 hives, according to the Maine State Beekeepers Association.

There were about 450 hives on the truck Thursday night, with each hive having an estimated 30,000-40,000 bees. An estimated 40,000-50,000 hives travel to Maine annually, according to Britt.

Brandon Hale, a firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Clinton Fire Department, said three firefighters from his department were stung by bees during rescue efforts Thursday night, but fortunately no one was allergic.

When a wrecker truck worked to clear the truck off the side of the road, firefighters set up a hose line to spray the bees with water if they became agitated, Hale said. Firefighters otherwise don’t otherwise carry any bee deterrents.

Ultimately, the precaution was not necessary, as the bees stayed calm.

“They were pretty docile toward the end of the night,” Hale said.

Beth Goodwin, president of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, said the bees likely stayed near their hives after the crash because of group-decision making known as “honeybee democracy.”

“It’s pretty remarkable how the whole colony works as one unit,” Goodwin said.

Bee populations grow quickly in May, according to a “beekeeper calendar” published by the state apiarist. Honey begins to flow at the end of May.

Thursday’s crash was not the first time a truck carrying bees has crashed either in Maine or on the way to the state — it’s happened at least twice before over the past decade. In 2021, a truck spilled 50 beehives in Gardiner after it was struck by another vehicle. In 2014, a truck bringing 20 million bees from Florida to Down East Maine crashed in Delaware. Experts said then that the 20 million bees were just a small fraction of bees to be imported to the state that year.

A truck rollover in Falmouth on Mother’s Day 1999 released 20 million bees at the intersection of the Maine Turnpike spur and Interstate 295 northbound. Most of the 400 hives on the truck we’re crushed, and emergency officials killed the remaining honeybees in order to reopen the highway ramp.

Incidents involving bees that make the news often lead to discussions about their importance to the ecosystem, Goodwin said. The pollinators are crucial to producing food crops, and some species face challenges like habitat loss and harmful pesticides.

“There’s always something new to learn about bees,” Goodwin said.

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