A Heist That Stings: Thousands of Bees Stolen from Million-Dollar Project

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REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

Built-in stingers aren’t enough to protect thousands of bees from theft, not with millions of dollars at stake in one of the largest bee research projects in the world. Now the underground world of bees—we bet you didn’t know there was such a world—is all abuzz with the news.

Thousands of British black bees, spread across four hives, were nabbed on Sunday in the city of Dundee in the Scottish region of Tayside. The bees were part of a $3.3 million neuroscience research project attempting to learn the effect of pesticides on bee learning and health. With the bees gone, the research is stymied.

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Dr. Chris Connolly, the lead researcher on the project for Dundee University, says in a statement that the bees were in a grassy area outside the city’s Ninewells Hospital when he showed up for work. Then, just 20 minutes later, they were gone. A van with two middle-aged men—one of them wearing a “bonnet”—was seen near the bees around the time of the theft and the van is a focus of the Tayside Police.

Pulling off a bee sting isn’t your ordinary crime. Connolly describes the bees as “very unique” and easy to identify, but says whoever took them knew what they were doing. He expects the cedar wood hives and the bees will likely be kept for breeding or sold to specialist beekeepers. Oh, how the seedy world of black market bees never ceases to amaze.

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