Authorities in California's Central Valley are asking residents to bee alert for stolen hives, which are a prime target this time of year, after nearly 100 were recently stolen from an open field.
Ninety-six beehives valued at nearly $34,000 were stolen late last month, the Fresno County Sheriff's Office said this week. The hives had been positioned in almond orchards in the Central Valley for the region's famed almond blossom season.
"This type of crime consistently happens in Fresno County around January and February as beehives are set out for the almond bloom," Fresno County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Tony Botti told ABC News. "Unfortunately, it is usually someone else in the industry behind it since they are familiar with handling bees. They will strike at night when the bees [are] dormant or in the rain when they are not active."
The stolen hives, which are owned by South Dakota beekeepers, disappeared between 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 28 and 4 p.m. on Jan. 29 from a field located west of Mendota, the sheriff's office said. They are multicolored and branded with the letters "MEB," the sheriff's office said.
There is no person or vehicle of interest at this time, Botti said.
A cash reward is being offered for information on the whereabouts of the hives, the sheriff's office said.
Out-of-state beekeepers often contract with California growers to help pollinate their crops, including almond trees in the Central Valley, the sheriff's office said.
Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen said a hive theft can be "devastating" to a beekeeper.
"You're looking at hundreds and hundreds of dollars invested in that single hive, and you just don't make that up," Jacobsen told Fresno ABC station KFSN. "You don't just go buy another box, and all of a sudden have a colony."
Jacobsen said beekeeping is a "very extensive process," from acquiring a queen to keeping a hive healthy over several years. Some beekeepers are using GPS and other tracking devices due to the theft threat, he said.
"Because of the high value of these hives and relative ruralness and remote areas that they're located, unfortunately the thefts are something that we deal with quite often," Jacobsen told the station.
Botti told KFSN that people should be suspicious of hives being loaded onto a truck now.
"This is the time of year where you should be seeing forklifts offloading hives into orchards, not necessarily putting them back onto a truck," he told the station. "So, keep your eyes peeled. If you see somebody loading bees onto a truck, call in law enforcement and let us go and check it out to make sure that it's legit."
Some 80% of all U.S. almonds are produced in the Central Valley, according to the Central Valley Almond Association. The bloom occurs in February and March.
Nearly 100 beehives stolen from field in California's Central Valley originally appeared on abcnews.go.com