Viewers e-mail us news tips all the time, but one in particular really caught our attention on Tuesday. The subject line said: “BEES!!!!!!”
Mike from Wendell wrote to tell us that “a swarm of bees” had escaped from a truck, causing authorities to shut down a ramp near the Smithfield Road exit off U.S. Highway 64 in Knightdale.
WRAL photographer John Cox went to the scene to check it out and got some great video of a Wake County deputy’s car covered with honeybees. Come to find out, this wasn’t John’s first encounter with a swarm of the buzzing beauties.
“I had an uncle that had kept bees for years, and my dad got involved probably in the early 70s,” John said. “Most beekeepers have a handful of hives, but we always operated on the larger end of the scale.”
As he drove to Knightdale on Tuesday to check out the buzz, John said he didn’t expect to see much of anything.
“People freak out about bees, and I figured that there would be a little swarm on a tree limb or something, so I was pretty surprised when I got there and saw a cloud surrounding the deputy’s car,” he said.
Over the years, John has been stung hundreds of times while working with bees, but he’s still cautious around them.
“I don’t like being stung by bees anymore than the rest of you – in fact I hate it,” he said. “I’m not going to charge into a swarm of bees simply because I’ve been around them all my life.”
Dressed in shorts and a polo shirt – the typical summertime attire of a news photographer – John carefully approached the swarm covering the deputy’s car. Authorities advised the media to stay in their vehicles, but John and at least one other photographer carefully ventured outside.
“I crept closer and closer, and it was obvious these bees weren’t too interested in us, so I was able to shoot without any issues,” John said. “Some folks may have freaked if a bee buzzed by and started swatting at them – that would generate a little more interest from the bees and it may go downhill from there, but bees aren’t programmed to find humans and sting them. They instinctively gather food for the colony, and if something gets in their way they may get a little testy.”
John managed to get through the story unscathed, but a WTVD photographer was not as lucky.
“Tres Bruce from WTVD did get stung while we were waiting on the deputy to come back so we could interview him, but he was a trooper and sucked it up and kept going,” John said.
When John was younger, the primary benefit of keeping bees was the honey, because it’s “sweet, healthy and delicious,” he said. But as the wild population of bees declined, primarily due to parasites, pollination of farmer’s crops became more necessary and lucrative.
“That’s where the transportation of bees from place to place comes in,” John said. “Generally you would load the hives in the dark, and drive to the next location – where the next crop is – in the dark.”
Since bees don’t typically fly at night, that’s when the transportation takes place.
“That was the plan for the guys (on Tuesday). But when the truck broke down, daylight came before they had a tow truck to get the bees to the next spot,” John said. “Bees are going to do what they are programmed to do. It’s daytime, so they fly and forage for pollen and nectar.”
When the hives were finally towed away Tuesday, the bees that had flown off were left homeless and confused, so they were flying around looking for their home.
“The white sheriff’s car looked a lot like a trailer full of bee hives – at least it was the closest thing they could find,” John said. “An easy solution would have been to do what the deputy did at the end of the story – to drive away and scatter them over the miles. Then there wouldn’t have been a concentration, and they wouldn’t have been all over his car, although bees do a pretty good job of hanging on at highway speeds.”
Many thanks to John for sharing his behind-the-scenes story. Thanks as well to another WRAL photographer, Jamie Munden, who suggested that I write about John’s beekeeping past :)