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Millions of bees fell off a truck in Ontario. Local beekeepers jumped in to help

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Police southwest of Toronto got an unusual call yesterday. Hives carrying millions of honeybees had spilled onto a highway. That is not a problem law enforcement is trained to solve, so they called in the experts. Beekeepers rushed to the scene, including Mike Barber, owner of Tri-City Bee Rescue. I asked him to tell me about that call he received from the police.

MIKE BARBER: So, yeah, they actually called me multiple times because it was really early in the morning. And I was trying to get my son back to sleep, and I didn't have my phone. So I went back to my own bed, saw that I had missed a whole bunch of phone calls and that it was from the police, you know, fearing the worst. I was actually kind of relieved that it was just about bees and not...

SHAPIRO: That it was just millions of bees spilled all over a highway.

BARBER: Yeah, just millions of bees. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And so...

BARBER: Bees I can deal with.

SHAPIRO: What did the officer say to you when you called him back?

BARBER: He was very, very happy and very relieved that we were going to get down there as quickly as possible as he was happily hiding in his cruiser.

SHAPIRO: So he wouldn't get stung.

BARBER: Yeah. There were a lot of angry bees flying around. So the first responders - I mean, obviously great at their jobs but definitely not prepared for a cloud of stinging insects. So they asked for help.

SHAPIRO: So I'm imagining you rolling up to the scene with the full kind of, like, beekeeper spacesuit, smoke gun that you can spray to - like, what - paint the scene for us.

BARBER: Yeah. We stopped - so the police had closed the road, so we stopped a little further away from the accident, got our bee suits on, got gloves on, chatted with the police officer because they drove up to us and just kind of explained what was going on. And, yeah, then we just dove right in. The beekeeper who got in the accident was working with his partner to try to clean things up as quickly as they could. And they were just really happy to see a couple more hands and, you know, delegated a bit. And we just started, you know, putting hives back together.

SHAPIRO: How do you get millions of spilled bees back into their hives?

BARBER: We actually have these little, tiny bee flutes that we play.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BARBER: The right tune...

SHAPIRO: Someone listening to the radio is believing you right now.

BARBER: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BARBER: They really like AC/DC, so, you know, we just play...

SHAPIRO: Oh, OK. So you play AC/DC on the flute.

BARBER: Yeah, exactly. No, we started putting the hives back together, and bees are really great at communicating with each other. They communicate through pheromone. So once the hives were back on the trailer, they started putting out a pheromone that, you know, a lot of beekeepers call the come-home pheromone.

SHAPIRO: Oh, like, all clear.

BARBER: Yeah. Like, literally, you know, all these flying insects that were super-confused just kind of descended calmly onto the boxes once they were back together.

SHAPIRO: Can you estimate how many you were able to save and how many didn't make it?

BARBER: I would think that only foragers, only the older bees that were out trying to defend the hives were really lost, as the traffic wasn't stopped until a little bit after the accident. So there were a whole bunch of squished bees on the road, which was really sad. But I think that the hives themselves - I would say, you know, 80 or 90% of them will be fine.

SHAPIRO: You've got bee rescue in the name of your company. How unusual is a rescue like this?

BARBER: Hopefully once-in-a-lifetime type rescue, definitely a really sad scenario. But, yeah, our rescues are much tamer than this. We remove bees that are too close to humans for their comfort - for the humans' comfort, not the bees. We're used to dealing with single hives, not multiple hives and definitely not as angry.

SHAPIRO: Mike Barber of Tri-City Bee Rescue. Thanks so much for sharing the story with us.

BARBER: Yeah, no problem. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISAAC STERN AND FRANZ WAXMAN PERFORMANCE OF RIMSKY-KORSAKOV'S "FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLEBEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Sarah Handel
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.