German beekeeping laws are weird: an excerpt from "The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance"

Earlier today, I reviewed a new book by Kevin "Lowering the Bar" Underhill called "The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance and Other Real Laws That Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced." Kevin kindly provided us with an excerpt from the book, a series of weird-but-true German beekeeping laws:

My swarm of bees has fled! What shall I do?

If you own a bunch of bees (known to bee experts as a “swarm”), and it flies away one day and ends up on somebody else’s property, who owns it?

It’s too bad they don’t teach bee law in school anymore, because this would be a great bar-exam question. Turns out that the German Civil Code has a set of rules about bee ownership in this situation that seems to cover the gamut of possible outcomes. Most importantly, the first rule of fleeing-bee procedure is that you must pursue the bees immediately. Otherwise any claim to swarm ownership will be waived:

Loss of ownership of bee swarms:
Where a swarm of bees takes flight, it becomes ownerless if the owner fails to pursue it without undue delay or if he gives up the pursuit.

Bees are not really considered “domesticated” in the full sense of the word, given that they have a habit of picking up and moving when­ever they want to and there isn’t much you can do about it, unless you thought ahead and took the time to make a shitload of bee leashes. As is the general rule with captured wild animals, if they get away they are considered to revert back to the wild and to unowned status. As long as you’re still pursuing them, though, there is hope.

German Civil Code § 960–61.

It flew into my neighbor’s empty beehive! Now what?

Let’s say your sneaky neighbor, knowing your bees are disgruntled, builds a beehive and leaves the door wide open, hoping they will defect, and they take him up on that offer. What then?

You go get your bees, that’s what:

Right of pursuit of the owner
The owner of the swarm of bees may, in pursuit, enter on plots of land belonging to others. If the swarm has entered an unoccupied beehive belonging to another, the owner of the swarm, for the purpose of capturing it, may open the hive and remove or break out the combs. He must make compensation for the damage caused.

Yep. So long as the hive was empty when they got there, you can break it open and repossess the runaway bees. You’ll have to pay for the damage, of course, but that’s a small price to pay (depending on the beehive) for getting your bees back and, presumably, teaching them a lesson about loyalty they won’t soon forget.

Actually, I wouldn’t spend too much time trying to punish a bee, let alone a swarm of bees. That’s not going to turn out well.

German Civil Code § 962.

Turns out there were bees in there already! It’ll take forever to separate my bees from his!

I have good news and bad news on this one.

The good news is you won’t have to try to pick your bees out of a lineup, or worry about any other bee-identification measures. The bad news is that this is because, at least under German bee law, if your bees join up with foreign bees then you lose your rights to the swarm:

If a bee swarm has moved into an occupied beehive belonging to another, the ownership and the other rights in the bees that were occupying the beehive extend to the swarm that has moved in. The ownership and the other rights in the swarm that has moved in are extinguished.

I guess there needs to be a bright-line rule here of some kind, unless they can get bees to wear little jerseys or something like that to show which team they’re on.

German Civil Code § 964.

No, wait! Those are my bees over there! Flying toward that other swarm of bees, which also has someone chasing it! Are you kidding me?

Nein, mein bedauernswerter Imkerfreund. Die Bienenschwärme sind gerade dabei, sich zu vereinigen! Now what are you going to do?

Believe it or not, the German Civil Code has a specific statute that is to be applied in the event that two or more swarms flee their hives at approximately the same time and, while properly being pursued by their respective owners in order to preserve their ownership rights, merge to form one larger swarm. Should that happen—and I’d very much like to know if it ever has—the owners split the bees:

If bee swarms of more than one owner that have moved out merge, the owners who have pursued their swarms become co-owners of the total swarm captured; the shares are determined according to the number of swarms pursued.

So, let’s say five swarms are on the move, followed by four bee­keepers flailing around with bee nets (obviously I know nothing about beekeeping). Beekeepers A and B are each pursuing one swarm. C is pursuing two different swarms that tried to flee his place at the same time, while D was just driving by and has never owned a bee in his life.

He just finished beekeeping school, or something. Meanwhile, Bee­keeper E is sitting at home not pursuing his swarm, which is one of the five. If all five swarms merge and the resulting überSchwärm is captured, what happens?

What happens is that some German lawyers are about to make a bunch of money, that’s what happens.

German Civil Code § 963 (“Merging of bee swarms”).

The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance and Other Real Laws That Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced