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Bees & Pesticides – Neonicotinoids!

06 Aug 15
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The increase of “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), in which adult bees abandon their hives, is not new in the news! We have been dealing with this new disorder affecting the honeybee population for approximately a decade. Pesticides have long been thought to be a contributing factor to this disorder. Pesticides containing neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides and it is found to be chemically similar to nicotine. Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the insect brain as nicotine affects the human brains. The bee’s preference for food containing neonicotinoids suggests, like nicotine, neonicotinoids may act like a drug and make the bees crave more of the same food.


Videos showing the affect on honeybees after they have ingested neonicotinoid based insecticides nectar or pollen, the bees appear to act very drunk.  Their internal clock and their internal navigation system is badly affected. The intricate communication system on which a bee hive relies for optimizing its collective foraging efforts involves subtle physical and chemical cues.  Bees returning from a successful foraging journey can communicate very precise navigational information to their hive mates, allowing them to fly to the exact location of a newly discovered source of nectar. Research conducted in France has demonstrated this sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids interferes with this crucial information network, putting the entire hive at risk because foragers given low doses of neonicotinoid cannot find their way back to the hive.  Understanding acute toxicity is important, but the hazard of chronic exposure could be equally devastating. Unfortunately, we know very little about this aspect of the neonicotinoid story.


United Kingdom (UK) researchers have found honeybees may be doomed to consume nectar and pollen contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides, according to new behavioral studies.  Previous behavioral studies suggest the insects do not avoid feeding on neonicotinoid treated plants.  Bees are choosing to ingesting far higher amounts of the pesticides than most toxicity studies account for.  The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations but it must be studied more in depth.


Although, this product was considered more human and pet friendly, in the late 1990’s this insecticide came under more scrutiny of environmental and ecological impacts including CCD with bees. There was also an impact on birds due to the lack of insect activity.  The European Union (EU) and other non EU countries have restricted the use of neonicotinoid based pesticides since 2013.  Bears the question, it is 2015, why has the United States (US) not restricted the use of neonicotinoids? Update: The latest news, the United Kingdom (UK) has just revoked the ban on neonicotinoid based insecticides. Hard for me to understand a decision like this.


Another factor is the large amount of neonicotinoids being found in the rivers and streams and what most people do not realize, honeybees need to take in a tremendous amount of water. Especially, dangerous is shallow water as sunlight tends to not degrade the neonicotinoids as much as is needed.   Neonicotinoids protect crops from pests, such as white flies, beetles and termites, which is why it is being used.  Remember, though our helpful bees are insects too, no wonder they are being affected! Farmers consider this is an important tool in their arsenal but they end up washing this tool into surface waters and soil.


In Massachusetts, in the US, neonicotinoids have been found in 70% of the pollen and honey samples tested in the hives in their state.  Several of these insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees and bumblebees. Neonicotinoid residues are found in pollen and nectar consumed by pollinators such as bees and butterflies.  Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application.  Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.  Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil or water from the previous year.
A direct link is still being demonstrated between neonicotinoids and the honeybee syndrome known as CCD.  Recent research suggests neonicotinoids may make honeybees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD.  Since there is not a direct link completely established as yet, many neonicotinoid pesticides are sold to homeowners for use on lawns and gardens, do not have any mention of the risks of these products to bees.  Reports recommend regulators reassess, reexamine or suspend the registrations due to bee safety of all neonicotinoid pesticide products.  Their determination is to understand how to manage risks and require clear labels so consumers know these products kill bees and other pollinators.  It has also been recommended the US Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a more cautious approach to approving all new pesticides, using a comprehensive assessment process that adequately addresses the risks to honey bees and bumble bees in all their life stages. It is estimated bees pollinating our food is a two-hundred billion dollar industry.

Berks and Schuylkill Beekeeper's Association - Wild hive formed around a twig

It has not been fully studied or researched as to the effect of CCD on the wild hives. Exposure to wild bees may be considerably higher than previously recognized.   The proximity of wild hive to farms or gardens using these products is going to be critical to the viability of these wild hives.   Whether we are trying to save domestic or wild bees, caution should be used when considering a pesticide with neonicotinoid.  Organic is the way to go!

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