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A honey of a crime wave stings Japan

Think of all the things you could steal. (Not that you’re a crook or anything; I’m just saying if you were.) There’s money, jewelry, pork tenderloin, second base. In fact, there’s virtually no end to the desirable objects you could swipe if you were so inclined. One thing, though, that I’m guessing none of you have ever thought of stealing is bees.

That’s right: bees, those black-and-yellow, honey-making, swarming insects with the vicious little stingers. Only a moron would to want to steal bees, right?

First of all, they can fly, so if they didn’t want to stay stolen they could just wing it back to where they came from. Secondly, what kind of pawn store could you visit to fence the little suckers? Most importantly, wouldn’t they just sting the crap out of you the moment you upset their hive? Unless you really love honey, I see no upside to such a crime.

Such is not the case, however, in Japan, where the Japan Beekeepers and Honey Association (JBHA) recently warned its members to be on the lookout for bee rustlers. Apparently, the price of honeybees has doubled in recent years in Japan, and as a result, bee thefts have been on the rise.

In 2009 alone, more than 2 million bees were stolen from Japanese farms, according to the JBHA, and just recently, in a brazen crime wave that terrorized the central Shizuoka prefecture, eight hives of 60,000 bees were stolen in a single night from five separate farms. Japanese apiarists and law enforcement officials fear this might just be the beginning of a disturbing trend.

So now that the JBHA has issued its warning to Japanese beekeepers to watch out for bee rustlers, what exactly should they be on the lookout for? I think we can safely rule out a few of the more obvious suspects. For example, Winnie the Pooh, being a fictional character, is probably not the culprit, though he was the first one I thought of. Likewise, the Asiatic black bear, which is native to Japan, would probably just destroy the hives and eat the honey rather than try to abscond with the bees.

Japanese police believe a gang of specialist thieves is to blame for the crimes, and I think they’re probably right, assuming that by “specialist” they mean “people wearing bee suits.” They could mean “people covered with millions of bee stings,” for all I know, but for some reason I think that’s probably not what they’re saying.

With that being the case, I’d like to issue this amended warning to Japan’s beekeepers: If you see a gang of people in bee suits lurking suspiciously around your hives, it’s probably a good bet that they’re bee rustlers. I hope that makes it easier for you to know what you should be looking out for.

Now that we’ve formed a reasonable profile of our suspects, there’s still one pressing question that remains: Why, exactly, would this gang of specialist thieves want to steal bees in the first place? How much money could they possibly be making for their efforts?

According to a BBC News story on the subject, the price of a swarm of bees in Japan is currently a little more than $400. This may seem like a pittance if you don’t know how many bees constitutes a swarm. I didn’t, so I looked it up, and the best answer I could find was that a swarm is usually about 20,000 bees. Suddenly that $400 figure seems even more like a pittance, doesn’t it?

That means that by raiding five different farms in one night and stealing eight hives, the bee-swiping gang netted themselves a mere $1,200. Surely, there must be something more lucrative and less dangerous to steal in Japan. Hell, the gang could probably have made that much in one night panhandling on the streets of Tokyo.

My fear, though, is that these thefts are not about money but something much more sinister. We’ve all heard that bees are mysteriously disappearing around the globe, and that without bees all the plants will die, right? What if the gang was hired by some evil mastermind who hopes to control all the world’s bees unless we pay him, oh, say, 100 BILLION DOLLARS?

Come to think of it, in one of those Austin Powers movies, Dr. Evil did wear a shiny silver suit that made him look suspiciously like a beekeeper. Maybe I shouldn’t be too hasty to rule out fictional characters after all.

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Todd Hartley

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05 2010

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