Oklahoma beekeepers swarm in effort to capture, not kill, escaped bees

Considering the national bee shortage, swarms of bees should be safely moved by an expert, not killed, say beekeepers.

Alden Pellett/AP/File
Beekeepers take the tarp off an arriving truckload of 420 hives in Charlotte, Vt., May 12, 2005. A truck full of bee colonies overturned in Oklahoma on Tuesday, allowing the bees to escape.

It's not quite the kick-off for a "Save the Bees" campaign, but when escaped bees swarmed over a highway in Oklahoma, the goal was capture, not kill.

A truck carrying crates of bees through Garvin County, Okla., overturned on Interstate 35, and hundreds of thousands of bees inside the truck escaped, KOKH-TV reported.

Police spent the afternoon containing the bees, reported the Daily Oklahoman. Scott Woods, a local, went to the aid of the driver and pulled him out of the truck, but not before being repeatedly stung.

"I got stung on the lip, on the end of the nose, mouth, the side of the eye and then the back," Mr. Woods told KOKH-TV.

Too many bees were swarming for them all to fly away safely, so police decided to kill the bees to prevent injuries to humans. The plan was to set the remaining crates of bees on fire after nightfall.

But when he heard about the plan to kill the bees, beekeeper Jim Stinson rushed to the scene.

"There is a bee shortage," Mr. Stinson told KOKH-TV. "When they started talking about killing these bees here tonight, I threw a fit and said 'Don't do that till I get there.' "

Stinson advertises his services as a bee removal contractor. He told the Christian Science Monitor that since he is retired, helping move bees that have settled in people's homes to better locations is a good service.

Another Oklahoma beekeeper echoed Stinson's concern. "Last year I lost 100 percent of my hives," Dee Oliphant told the Christian Science Monitor. "It's getting kind of old restarting every year."

A national bee shortage began about 10 years ago, said Alan Larson, president of the Oklahoma State Beekeepers Association, in an interview with the Monitor. He said theories abound on the cause of what is officially known as "colony collapse disorder," but he thinks it is a combination of disease, pesticides, and a decline in the plants that honeybees can pollinate.

Beekeepers are always looking for solutions, said Mr. Larson, both in individual and commercial hives and as part of the Beekeepers Association. Many beekeepers, including Stinson, advertise their services for safe removal of bee swarms, he said, as part of one effort to combat the bee shortage.

"Instead of being afraid of those swarms and trying to kill them, we try and get the information out so we can come," Larson said. A beekeeper can move the swarm to a safe place away from people, he explained, where a hive can be built and a new honeybee colony can thrive.

At this point, the location and skill level of the beekeeper affect how well each hive is doing, Massachusetts beekeeper Dan Conlon told the Monitor.

"We have actually seen a slight improvement the last year," he said. "This reflects the national trend of a small increase in the number of managed colonies."

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