Last year it was the doom of Colony Collapse Disorder wiping out entire beehive populations; now the hives themselves are vanishing. As pollination season begins in California’s Central Valley, what NPR calls “bee bandits” are stealing hives in the middle of the night. A third-generation beekeeper quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle says, “If a man doesn’t have his bees under lock and key these days, he’s going to pay for it.”

[A] bee shortage — largely the result of a puzzling ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder that causes adult bees to forsake their broods — has pushed the cost of renting a hive this year to $200 in some places, up from about $55 four years ago.

As the price of pollination soars, each hive becomes a sitting gold mine, sheriff’s deputies say. Skilled criminals simply dump the colony into a new container, and rent the bees to farmers as their own, pocketing the fee they’re paid for pollination.

But stealing bees is hardly a simple task. The hives are generally stacked two high and mounted on wooden pallets that need to be moved with a forklift; they often weigh 500 pounds.

Oh yes, and bees sting.

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