Photo: The ABC of Bee Culture: a cyclopaedia of every thing pertaining to the care of the honey-bee; bees, honey, hives, implements, honey-plants, etc., facts gleaned from the experience of thousands of bee keepers all over our land, and afterward verified by practical work in our own apiary.
The Status of the Honey Bee in the Law:
The law divides the entire animal kingdom into two classes: (Blackstone Commentaries, Book II, p. 390)
First, those which are domesticated (ferae domitia) and, second, those which are wild (ferae naturae). The rights and liabilities of persons with reference to the animal kingdom then are likewise divisible. Bees belong with the latter class and, in considering the law with reference to these cases, rules pertaining or applicable to the former class would not have any significance. Wild animals are also divisible into two classes:
Those which are free to roam at will, and those which have been subjected to man’s dominion. Rights and liabilities depend upon the class into which the animal falls at the particular time. If it be in a State of Nature, free to roam at will, it is the property of no one, not even of the one on whose land it may be at the particular time, and may become the property of the first taker, even though he be a trespasser and liable for the trespass.
One who enters another’s premises without the invitation or permission of the owner is a trespasser, but this gives the owner of the premises no title to the wild things thereon, it merely gives him the right to protect others from coming thereon and taking them. If, however, some person against his will enters the premises and takes a wild animal or a swarm of wild bees, such a person becomes the owner of what he takes, but he has to answer to the owner of the premises for the trespass. If, however, the animals have been brought within the dominion of the owner of the premises as deer in a park, rabbits in a warren, or bees in a hive, such an entry and taking would be a crime as the law recognizes the property of him who has dominion over them and the taker would gain no title by the taking, for the owner might regain them by legal proceedings. (Blackstone Commentaries, Book II, p. 392)
So we may understand that the animal kingdom to which the bees belong is subject to a certain qualified proprietary interest. That is, they belong to no one, not even the owner of the soil on which their nest may be unless they have been subjected to his dominion, and when so reduced to possession, they are his property. This principle, however, is subject to an important modification: they remain the property of the possessor only so long as his dominion continues, and if such animals regain their freedom, as bees by swarming out and occupying some natural hive, as a hollow in a tree, the property right is lost and they again revert to their natural state and become the property of the first taker.
These same notions also control the matter of liability for injuries done by the bees, and such liability depends on proprietorship. So it would seem that if the bees have escaped from their owner, or have swarmed out of his hive, unless he can be shown negligent in having permitted this, there can be no liability for injuries done by them.
— excerpt from ‘Bees and the Law’, pages 11-12, written by Murray Loring, published by Dadant, 1981