The Belleville Honey Company was transporting the bees in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, when the crash released insects into the air from their hives. No-one was injured, but emergency services had to use suppression foam to subdue the bees – killing huge numbers of the buzzing insects.

Coeur d’Alene fire chief Kenneth Gabriel told KXLY News: “We’ve seen all kinds of things that have wrecked; we’ve seen animals and stuff, but we’ve never seen bees. So this is a little different.”

Sgt Jonelle Greear, from Idaho State Police, added: “We’ve all been stung a few times.”

The motorway was closed down to one lane for several hours. Beekeepers attended the scene in a desperate attempt to save as many of the insects as possible, but it is feared that almost all perished.

Bees that had been subdued were scooped up on loaders and put into dump trucks. And local beekeeper Scott Weston said the creatures tended to die immediately when separated from their hive and their queen bee.

The same honey firm lost a further 448 hives in April when another of its vehicles crashed close to the scene of the second accident.