As If We Haven’t Done Enough Damage Already: Yet Another Way We Are Killing Honeybees With Neonicotinoids

Killing Honeybees With Neonicotinoids Part Deux: Yet Another Way We Are Destroying Bee Colonies

There are days when it seems like it just can’t get worse. Headlines scream about war, environmental poisoning, new record temperatures every day–where does it all end with the bad news?

Then there’s the honeybees. You’ve probably already heard about how Dorchester County in South Carolina in its zeal to combat a nebulous and possibly non-existent threat from mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus killed off an estimated 1.5 million honeybees with aerial pesticide spraying of naled, a dangerous neurotoxin.

And as tragic and avoidable as that genocidal event was for honeybees and honeybee farmers, there is another ongoing threat to the long-term sustainability of honeybee colonies that just got a whole lot worse.

The neonicotinoid class of pesticides is a big problem for bees; it is widely believed to be behind a massive honeybee die-off that began in 2012 and has been termed colony collapse disorder. This occurs when worker bees wander away from the colony never to return, their instincts and millennia of evolution wiped out–leading to the death of the bees’ colonies. Some 44 percent of all U.S. honeybees were estimated to have suddenly begun suffering this cataclysmic ailment.

But now a group of researchers have found what they believe to be an equally alarming if more subtle way that these powerful chemicals are affecting bees and their colonies.

The study, a joint effort by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Minnesota shows that neonicotinoids are reducing the queens’ ability to lay eggs, and thus reducing the viability of the colony.

Published in the Journal Scientific Reports, the study looked at colonies populated by 1,500, 3,000 and 7,000 honey bees, and what they found was truly alarming. Bees that were subjected to pesticides were found to have stored much less pollen than their unpoisoned counterparts. This is vital, because the pollen they store is then converted into a “bee bread” that provides a crucial protein for recently hatched larvae. Thus, the pesticide-affected bees are not only making fewer offspring, they’re also not feeding them enough to thrive.

“The queens are… the only reproductive individual laying eggs in the colony,” said study lead Judy Wu-Smart. “If her ability to lay eggs is reduced, that is a subtle effect that isn’t (immediately) noticeable, but translates to really dramatic consequences for the colony.”

And, in case you haven’t been paying attention could translate to big trouble for humans who like food, as bees and other pollinators are vital links in the ecosystem of growing things.

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