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Honeybee Theft Is on the Rise

Some beekeepers are working towards making tiny trackers for bees to locate them when they are stolen, but there’s no “find my queen” app just yet

Image: bwohack

Somebody in Ontario is rustling bees. The thieves go into bee hives and steal queens, bee boxes and supplies. So far, in Ontario, there have been a handful of similar robberies, according to the Toronto Star:

In May, in another incident reported to police, a thief in the Goderich area decided to take the honey and run, pilfering seven active beehives worth about $2,100. That same month, Kawartha Lakes police were investigating the theft of eight hives worth about $1,600 from a producer near Lindsay.

The buzz in beekeeping circles is that this spring there was also a robbery near Waterloo, another north of Peterborough and yet another in the Ottawa area, none of which made it into the media.

There are a few problems with tracking stolen beekeeping stuff. First, there’s no way to tag queens as your own. Unlike cattle, bees aren’t branded. So whoever swipes them gets away with a clean bee, untraceable to its original owner. The same goes for honey. People who uproot hive frames have it harder: those are easier to track. But as the Star points out, nobody steals a 180-pound box full of 80,000 bees if they don’t know what they’re doing. One apiarist says it would be like stealing an airplane—it requires a pilot to do it successfully.

On beekeeping forums, apiarists generally agree that whoever is stealing is probably a professional beekeeper, not a hobbyist. Times have been tough on the beekeeping industry—and when times are tough some turn to the dark side. The commercial beekeeping world saw a 43 percent mortality rate in its bees last year. One apiarist in Ontario lost 37 million bees.

Ontario isn’t the only place to see bee theft, either. Last year, a 500-pound beehive was stolen from outside a Houston restaurant. In 2010, as colony collapse disorder was starting to seriously make its presence known, there was an 85 percent increase in beehive thefts in Germany. The California State Beekeepers Association has a $10,000 be Theft Reward Program in place.

Some beekeepers are working towards making tiny trackers for bees to locate them when they are stolen, but there’s no “find my queen” app just yet.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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